Vanishing Into Thin Air
Today, 12 percent of bird species risk extinction
SCIENTISTS BELIEVE that birds, without human influence, would naturally go extinct at a rate of about one species per century. But over the past 500 years, habitat loss has resulted in a rate closer to one species per year, according to a new study coauthored by Duke University ecologist Stuart Pimm. Researchers previously documented 154 bird extinctions since 1500. But Pimm calls that number “hugely misleading”: Most bird species were unknown to humans before 1850, so earlier extinctions generally went unnoticed. Today, 12 percent of bird species risk extinction.
There is some good news: Pimm found that extinctions in the last 30 years have actually slowed, thanks to conservation efforts. But many birds are still in trouble, says Pimm. “We have a lot of work to do if we don’t want to see the extinction rate accelerate to 1,000 times what it should be.” —Hannah Schardt