Risk of Amazon bird extinctions increases
The risk of extinction has increased substantially for nearly 100 species of Amazonian birds, while European seaduck have also radically declined.
The 2012 IUCN Red List update for birds – released by BirdLife International – is based on models projecting the extent and pattern of deforestation across the Amazon. “We have previously underestimated the risk of extinction that many of Amazonia’s bird species are facing”, said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife’s Director of Science, Policy and Information. “However, given recent weakening of Brazilian forest law, the situation may be even worse than recent studies have predicted.”
Of particular concern are longer-lived species, such as Rio Branco Antbird, for which even moderate rates of deforestation can be an important threat. Some species, such as Hoary-throated Spinetail, appear likely to lose more than 80 per cent of their habitat over the coming decades and have been placed in the highest category of extinction risk: Critically Endangered.
The 2012 update is a comprehensive review of all the world’s over 10,000 bird species, which is undertaken every four years. The update shows worrying news not just from the tropics but in Northern Europe too, where over a million Long-tailed Ducks have disappeared from the Baltic Sea over the last 20 years, resulting in the species being uplisted to Vulnerable. The reasons for this decline are not clear but the fortunes of another sea duck, Velvet Scoter, are even worse, with the species now being listed as Endangered.
“These figures are frightening. We’re pretty sure that the birds haven’t moved elsewhere and that the numbers represent a genuine population crash. The widespread nature of the declines point to the likelihood of environmental change across much of the arctic and sub-arctic regions where these species breed”, said Andy Symes, BirdLife’s Global Species Programme Officer.
In Africa, White-backed and Rüppell’s Vultures are mirroring the fate of their Asian cousins, with rapid declines linked to poisoning, persecution and habitat loss. Both species have been reclassified as Endangered. Their declines have much wider impacts, since vultures play a key role in food webs by feeding on dead animals.
However, not all the news is bad. Restinga Antwren, a small bird from coastal, south-east Brazil, has been downlisted from Critically Endangered, as new surveys have found it to be more widely distributed than previously thought. Its future also looks more secure now owing to the creation of a new protected area covering its core distribution.
There are also recent examples of a species’ fate being turned around, despite almost insurmountable odds. In the Cook Islands of the Pacific, the sustained recovery of Rarotonga Monarch, once one of the world’s rarest birds, has led to it being 'downlisted' to Vulnerable. Intensive conservation action, particularly through control of alien invasive predators like Black Rat, has saved the species from extinction. The bird’s population is now about 380 individuals, over 10 times more than at its lowest point, although continued conservation efforts are required.
“Such successes show the remarkable achievements that are possible where effort and dedication by conservationists and local communities are backed up with political support and adequate resources,” said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Research Coordinator. “But the worrying projections for the Amazon emphasise the urgent need for governments to meet their international commitments by establishing comprehensive protected area networks that are adequately funded and effectively managed.”