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Climate change raising extinction risk among birds: study

by Staff Writers
Bonn, Germany (AFP) May 19, 2008
Climate change has emerged as a major factor behind the growing risk of extinction facing birds, the world's leading conservation agency warned on Monday.

"Long-term drought and sudden extreme weather are putting additional stress on the pockets of habitat that many threatened species depend on," the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said in a report issued on the sidelines of a global biodiversity convention.

"This, coupled with extensive and expanding habitat destruction, has led to an increase in the rate of extinction on continents and away from islands, where most historical extinction has occurred."

The Swiss-based organisation issued an update of its "Red List," the highly respected catalogue of species at threat.

Of the 1,226 birds on the list, 190 are "critically endangered," the highest category of threat.

Eight additional species have entered this category compared to the last list. These each face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild, and include the Tristan albatross (Diomedea dabbenena) of the South Atlantic and the Floreana mockingbird (Nesomimus trifasciatus) of the Galapagos islands.

In all, 24 species have moved into a higher level of threat as a result of shrinking population or declining habitat. Just two species have seen their prospects improved.

Those seen at greater threat include widespread continental species such as the Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata) and Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata), both previously in the "least concern" category but now regarded as "near threatened."

"Species are being hit by the double whammy of habitat loss and climate change," said Stuart Butchart, research coordinator with BirdLife, an alliance of conservation organisations, which helped compile the list.

"As populations become fragmented the effect of climate change can have an even greater impact, leading to an increased risk of local extinctions."

The IUCN highlighted the threat to three species:

-- The Mallee emuwren (Stipiturus mallee), a native of South Australia, where the last significant population comprises just 100 birds confined to 100 square kilometres (38 square miles). "Its habitat is now so fragmented that a single bushfire could be catastrophic," the IUCN warned;

-- The New Britain Goshawk (Accipiter princes), a bird of prey in Papua New Guinea, whose habitat has been ravaged by palm-oil plantations;

-- The spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus), which migrates between northeastern Russia and Southeast Asia. Its tidal-flat habitat has been badly eroded and its tundra breeding grounds are threatened by climate change.

The rare pieces of good news offered by the IUCN were attributed to two successful conservation programmes.

The first involved the Marquesan Imperial-pigeon (Ducula galeata), whose signature call is a "deep bellow waah-waah, like the mooing of a cow," according to BirdLife.

The species, which is a native of French Polynesia, is doing well under a translocation programme which has shifted breeding pairs to a new home.

The other is the little spotted kiwi (Apteryx owenii). Individuals have been moved out of New Zealand's South Island to new territories and are slowly reproducing.

"This goes to show not only that conservation action works but that it is vital if we are to prevent the extinction of these and other species," Butchart said.

Some 6,000 representatives from 191 countries are attending the 11-day conference on the UN's convention on biodiversity, which was first adopted at the Rio Earth summit in 1992.

earlier related report
Stark warning as UN biodiversity conference opens in Germany The Earth's natural resources must be shared more equally between rich and poor nations, Germany's environment minister said Monday at the start of a UN biodiversity conference.

Some 6,000 representatives from 191 countries are attending the 11-day conference on the UN's convention on biodiversity, which was first adopted at the Rio Earth summit in 1992.

"The industrialised countries must recognise the need to share natural resources with those with those who have safeguarded them," Sigmar Gabriel declared.

"It is a question of principle, a question of justice," he said. "The developing countries are right to speak of "biopiracy", when the industrialised world use their resources without authorisation and without paying a penny," he said.

Participants at the conference are hoping to establish a roadmap towards negotiating, by 2010, an "Access and Benefit Sharing" regulatory framework governing access to genetic resources and sharing the benefits from their use.

Gabriel said he expected "significant progress" on the issue. "We need a clear mandate for structuring the negotiations by 2010," he said.

The UN convention on biodiversity (CBD) was established at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, whilst the Bonn conference is the ninth meeting of its signatories.

"Sixteen years after the Rio Summit, life on earth is at a crucial crossroads", Gabriel told delegates.

"We're still on the wrong track, and if we continue like this, we can see that we will not meet our goals," he said.

Gabriel pointed to the fact that the current rate of extinction of species is between 100 and 1,000 times the natural rate of extinction.

One in four mammals, one bird in eight, one third of all amphibians and 70 percent of plants are under threat.

"The loss of diversity of life on earth will continue "as long as it is easier to make money from the destruction of nature than protect it," he said.

A new study, "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity", extracts of which were published on Monday by Der Spiegel magazine, suggests that each year the disappearance of animal and plant life costs six percent of annual global gross national product (GNP) -- two trillion euros (3.1 trillion dollars).

For poorer countries, the burden is particularly heavy, often because they receive none of the profits large multinationals make from developing new medicines and commercial products from the resources and knowledge of indigenous people.

Deforestation is also on the agenda: "Each year we lose the equivalent of the size of three Switzerlands in forests," Gabriel said.

Tropical forests are the most threatened, and also the home to 80 percent of the world's biodiversity, according to the CBD.

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