Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


World ranking tracks birds’ evolutionary distinctness


A team of international scientists, including a trio from Simon Fraser University, has published the world’s first ranking of evolutionary distinct birds under threat of extinction. These include a cave-dwelling bird that is so oily it can be used as a lamp and a bird that has claws on its wings and a stomach like a cow.

The research, published today in Current Biology, the shows that Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand all score high on responsibility for preserving irreplaceable species. The researchers examined nearly 10,000 bird species and identified more than 100 areas where additional protection efforts would help safeguard avian biodiversity.

“We used genetic data to identify the bird species that have the fewest relatives on the ‘Tree of Life’, that is, which species score highest on the ‘evolutionary distinctness’ index,” explains SFU biologist Arne Mooers, one of the six authors of a study that was seven years in the making.

The index was created by former SFU PhD student Dave Redding, another of the trio, and was applied to an updated version of the first global tree of birds, published in 2012 by the group in Nature.

The researchers, led by Mooers and Walter Jetz at Yale University, combined the index with data on extinction risk and maps of where every bird in the world lives. The result is a snapshot of how the entire Tree of Life of birds is distributed on the planet, and where on earth the tree is most at risk of being lost.

“Given that we cannot save all species from extinction, these distinct species are of special conservation concern, since they are truly irreplaceable - they have no close relatives that share their DNA,” Mooers says.

Jeff Joy, another SFU team member, adds: "Many of these distinct species are also incredibly cool–the number-one bird lives in caves and is so oily you can use it as a lamp, the number three-bird has claws on its wings and a stomach like a cow, while still another, the Abbott’s Booby, breeds only on Christmas Island.”

Mapping where distinct species are on the planet also gives insight into which areas and countries steward disproportionate amounts of bird evolution. The data also offer some insight into large-scale processes affecting biodiversity, Mooers says.

“We also found that if we prioritize threatened birds by their distinctness, we actually preserve very close to the maximum possible amount of evolution,” says Mooers. “This means our method can identify those species we cannot afford to lose and it can be used to preserve the information content represented by all species into the future. Both are major goals for conservation biology.”

The new rankings will be used in a major conservation initiative called the Edge of Existence program at the London Zoo. The zoo has already identified several species like the huge monkey-eating Philippine eagle that are at once distinct, endangered, and suffer from lack of attention.

Funding came from several sources, including NSERC, NERC, NSF, NASA, and the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies.

Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 125,000 alumni in 130 countries.

Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

Arne Mooers, 778.782.3979; 604.818.1627
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.9017;

Arne Mooers | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: DNA SFU conservation biology extinction irreplaceable species species stomach

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Molecular doorstop could be key to new tuberculosis drugs
20.03.2018 | Rockefeller University

nachricht Modified biomaterials self-assemble on temperature cues
20.03.2018 | Duke University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Physicists made crystal lattice from polaritons

20.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

20.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Thawing permafrost produces more methane than expected

20.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>