Biological characteristics of Australian threatened birds

George Olah, Robert Heinsohn, Alex J. Berryman, Sarah M. Legge, James Q. Radford, Stephen T. Garnett

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Over 750 native bird species reside in or regularly migrate to Australia, many of which have experienced rapid changes in habitat extent over the past two centuries. By 2020, eight taxa were considered Extinct and 10% threatened with extinction. Understanding the underlying extrinsic and intrinsic factors that increase extinction risk can allow prioritisation of conservation management and research. Here, we use state-of-the-art phylogenetic comparative models to reveal the most important biological traits that predispose Australian bird species to elevated extinction risk. We use an extensive database of their biological traits and relate these to each species’ national and global IUCN extinction risk status as assessed over the past three decades (in 1990, 2000, 2010, and 2020). We show that high evolutionary distinctiveness (uniqueness), island endemism, and an inability to take advantage of agricultural habitats were the most important traits explaining elevated extinction risk in species when phylogeny is controlled for, suggesting that extinction risk is disproportionately high in species with high evolutionary distinctiveness. Extinct taxa were characterised by large body mass and island endemism compared to taxa extant in 2020. Our study provides the largest and most up-to-date analysis of the intrinsic traits of Australian birds in relation to their extinction risk, and can be used as a baseline in future studies, for prioritisation of conservation actions, and for policy advice on a broad scale.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-92
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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