600 birds in peril on new conservation list

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Scientists at Sheffield University have helped compile a new list of the world’s 600 most endangered birds as part of a new approach to conservation.

Dr Gavin Thomas has worked with Walter Jetz from Yale University on the list, which uses a method called evolutionary distinctiveness to prioritise which endangered birds should receive particular attention.

The approach seeks to measure how genetically or evolutionarily special a bird is.

Birds that evolved earlier or which do not have close living relatives – such as the oilbird, which has almost 80 million years of evolutionary history unique to it – have a high evolutionary distinctiveness.

In contrast, birds that have evolved more recently or have many common relatives have a low evolutionary distinctiveness.

Dr Thomas said: “Not all species are evolutionarily equal – some have few close relatives that share their DNA. These species are irreplaceable. If they are driven to extinction, millions of years or evolutionary history goes with them.”

The researchers mapped the habitats of all 9,993 species of birds and gave all of them individual ratings.