Global analysis of threat status reveals higher extinction risk in tropical than in temperate bird sister species

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Given increasing pressures upon biodiversity, identification of species’ traits related to elevated extinction risk is useful for more efficient allocation of limited resources for nature conservation. Despite its need, such a global analysis was lacking in the case of birds. Therefore, we performed this exercise for avian sister species using information about their global extinction risk from IUCN Red List. We focused on 113 pairs of sister species, each containing a threatened and an unthreatened species to factor out the effects of common evolutionary history on the revealed relationship. We collected data on five traits with expected relationships to species’ extinction risk based on previous studies performed at regional or national levels: breeding habitat (recognizing forest, grassland, wetland and oceanic species), latitudinal range position (temperate and tropics species), migration strategy (migratory and resident species), diet (carnivorous, insectivorous, herbivorous and omnivorous species) and body mass. We related the extinction risk using IUCN threat level categories to species’ traits using generalised linear mixed effects models expecting lower risk for forest, temperate, omnivorous and smaller-bodied species. Our expectation was confirmed only in the case of latitudinal range position, as we revealed higher threat level for tropical than for temperate species. This relationship was robust to different methods of threat level expression and cannot be explained by a simple association of high bird species richness with the tropical zone. Instead, it seems that tropical species are more threatened because of their intrinsic characteristics such as slow life histories, adaptations to stable environments and small geographic ranges. These characteristics are obviously disadvantageous in conditions of current human-induced environmental perturbations. Moreover, given the absence of habitat effects, our study indicates that such perturbations act across different tropical environments. Therefore, disproportionally higher conservation effort in the tropics compared to the temperate zone is urgently needed.

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