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Why the most unique birds are at greater risk of extinction

Their spectacular plumes or bizarre beaks make them more prone to this.

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The Bristle-thighed Curlew migrates from Alaska to the South Pacific islands every year. (Photo by Dominic Sherony via Wikimedia Commons)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

The most unique birds on the planet are at greater risk of extinction, according to new research.

Their spectacular plumes or bizarre beaks make them more prone to global warming and loss of habitat, scientists say.

They include the Christmas Frigatebird, which nests only on Christmas Island and is renowned for its bright red throat patch.

The Bristle-thighed Curlew, which migrates from its breeding grounds in Alaska to South Pacific islands every year, may also be wiped out.

They are vital to seed dispersal, pollination and predation. The phenomenon could have severe consequences on the functioning of ecosystems.

Lead author Jarome Ali, a Ph.D. candidate at Imperial College London, said: "Our study shows that extinctions will most likely prune a large proportion of unique species from the avian tree.

"Losing these unique species will mean a loss of the specialised roles that they play in ecosystems.

"If we do not take action to protect threatened species and avert extinctions, the functioning of ecosystems will be dramatically disrupted."

The Christmas Frigatebird, which nests only on Christmas Island. (Photo by Shah Jahan via Wikimedia Commons)

The study is based on attributes such as beak shape and wing, leg and tail length of 99 percent of all living species. It is the most comprehensive of its kind.

Scenarios were simulated in which all threatened birds became extinct. There was a much greater reduction in physical diversity.

The researchers used a dataset of measurements collected from living birds and museum specimens, totaling 9,943 species.

They combined it with extinction risk, based on each species' current threat status on the IUCN Red List.

Added Ali: "One possibility is that highly specialized organisms are less able to adapt to a changing environment, in which case human impacts may directly threaten species with the most unusual ecological roles.

"More research is needed to delve deeper into the connection between unique traits and extinction risk."

The study in Functional Ecology has important implications for conservation.

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