Brightly colored songbirds are at greater risk of extinction and are more likely to be trafficked as pets, according to researchers reported in Current Biology today.
In addition, the researchers predict that about 500 other bird species, the majority of which live in the tropics, are at risk of future trade due to their distinctive and appealing feathers.
“Aesthetic value,” according to Rebecca Senior (@RebeccaASenior) of Durham University, “is an important part of how people value nature.”
But, the author adds “there is potential for conflict when what motivates some people to protect certain species is the same thing that makes other people want to own them.
“Songbirds are highly sought after in the pet trade, particularly for their beautiful songs. However, songbirds can also be remarkably colorful — a highly desirable trait in other commonly traded species, such as parrots. “
Senior and colleagues from the University of Florida, Gainesville, studied the conflicting roles of aesthetic value in biodiversity protection. They assessed the aesthetics of groups of birds, around the globe, and the avian tree of life using innovative measures of color.
Their research shows that the tropics are the center of bird color, with 91% and 65% of the world’s most unique and colorful groups of songbirds. They claim that groups of related and distinctively colored birds are the main targets of the pet trade, which impacts 30% of all bird species. They then identified 478 bird species that might be vulnerable to trafficking in the future based on their attractive colors.
The team was “surprised to see the strength of the latitudinal gradient in color; even when you account for the greater number of species in the tropics, the diversity of color in the tropics dwarfs all other regions. “
Brilliant blues, oranges, and yellows are known to put species at risk, but the researchers were shocked to see that several sought-after species, including the endangered Bali myna, also have a special affinity for the color pure white. Overall, the results show that the same color characteristics that drive some people to travel across the globe just to catch a brief sight of a bird through binoculars may also make them vulnerable to pet trade. The findings are important for conservation in many ways.
“Understanding what motivates trade is essential to identify at-risk species potentially requiring more proactive protection from trapping,” adds Senior. “Trade has the capacity to be regulated and managed sustainably with a better understanding of what is traded as well as where and why trade occurs. Loss of colorful species also directly erodes aesthetic value, which is problematic because, for better or worse, it is this value that often fundamentally motivates and funds conservation efforts. “
Future research will attempt to separate even more variables that contribute to regional variance in bird trade patterns. They also want to investigate how color affects trade in other animal and plant species.
Source: 10.1016 / j.cub.2022.07.066
Image Credit: Rick Stanley, Gabby Salazar and Zhikai Liao