Bright songbirds with unique colors are at greater risk of extinction and are more likely to be traded as pets, according to researchers reporting in current biology On September 15, researchers also predicted that nearly 500 additional bird species, most of which live in the tropics, are at risk of future trade based on their unique and desirable colours.
Rebecca Senior of the University of Durham, UK, said: “Aesthetic value is an important part of how people value nature, however, there is the potential for conflict when what motivates some people to protect certain species is the same as what makes others want to own these songbirds. Highly desirable in the pet trade, especially for their beautiful songs. However, songbirds can also be remarkably colorful – a highly desirable trait in other commonly traded species, such as parrots.”
In their new study, Senior and colleagues, including Brett Chivers of the University of Florida, Gainesville, explored the antagonistic roles of aesthetic value in biodiversity conservation. They used new color scales to assess the aesthetics of bird groups around the world and the tree of bird life.
Their analysis shows that the tropics are the epicenter of bird color, with 91% and 65% of the world’s most diverse and unique songbird populations, respectively. They report that the pet trade, which affects 30% of all bird species, targets groups of related birds of unique colour. They went on to identify 478 bird species that may be at risk of future trade based on their attractive colours.
“We were surprised to see the strength of the latitude color gamut; even when you take into account the greater number of species in the tropics, the color diversity in the tropics dwarfs all others,” Senior said.
While one might expect bright blue, orange, and yellow to endanger the species, researchers were also surprised to discover that pure white is a unique color found in many desirable species, such as the endangered Bali myna. Overall, the findings highlight that the same color features that make some people want to travel around the world just to peek at a bird through binoculars may also put them at risk from the pet trade. The findings have important implications for conservation.
“Understanding what stimulates trade is essential to identify vulnerable species that may require more proactive protection than trapping,” Senior said. “Trade has the ability to be sustainably regulated and managed with a better understanding of what is being traded as well as where and why the trade takes place. The loss of colored species also directly erodes aesthetic value, which is a problem because, for better or worse, this value that often It primarily stimulates and funds conservation efforts.”
In future studies, they hope to separate more factors at play in the regional variation in bird trade patterns. They would also like to explore the role of color in the trade of other animal and plant populations.
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