Why lists of worldwide hen species disagree: Data gaps and species similarities might result in undercounting biodiversity

How many species of birds are there on the earth? It depends upon whose depend you go by. The quantity could possibly be as little as 10,000 or as excessive as 18,000. It’s robust to standardize lists of species as a result of the idea of a “species” itself is a little bit bit fuzzy.

That issues as a result of conserving biodiversity requires figuring out what variety exists within the first place. So biologists, led by University of Utah doctoral candidate Monte Neate-Clegg of the School of Biological Sciences, got down to examine 4 important lists of hen species worldwide to learn how the lists differ — and why. They discovered that though the lists agree on most birds, disagreements in some areas of the world may imply that some species are missed by conservation ecologists.

“Species are more than just a name,” Neate-Clegg says. “They are functional units in complex ecosystems that need to be preserved. We need to recognize true diversity in order to conserve it.”

The outcomes are printed in Global Ecology and Biogeography.

On the origin of species

The definition of a species is not clear-cut. Some scientists outline populations as completely different species in the event that they’re reproductively remoted from one another and unable to interbreed. Others use bodily options to delineate species, whereas but others use genetics. Using the genetic definition produces many extra species, however whatever the methodology, grey areas persist.

“Species are fuzzy because speciation as a process is fuzzy,” Neate-Clegg says. “It’s a gradual process so it’s very difficult to draw a line and say ‘this is two species’ vs. ‘this is one species.'”

Also, he says, bodily options and genetic signatures do not all the time diverge on the identical timescale. “For example,” he says, “two bird populations may diverge in song and appearance before genetic divergence; conversely, identical populations on different islands may be separated genetically by millions of years.”

Comparing the lists

At this level within the story, it is time to introduce 4 lists, every of which purports to incorporate all of the hen species on the earth. They are:

  • The Howard and Moore Checklist of the Birds of the World
  • The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World
  • The BirdLife International Checklist of the Birds of the World
  • The International Ornithological Community (IOC) World Bird List

“Being active field ornithologists who are always trying to ID bird species means that one is always faced with the issue of some species being on one list but not the other,” says Ça?an ?ekercio?lu, affiliate professor within the School of Biological Sciences. “So our field experience very much primed us to think about this question and inspired us to write this paper.”

The lists have completely different strengths relying on their software. The BirdLife International record, for instance, integrates with the IUCN Red List, which reviews on species’ conservation standing. The IOC record is up to date by specialists twice a yr, ?ekercio?lu says. The record is open entry with comparisons to different main lists, and modifications are documented transparently.

“But as a birdwatcher, I use eBird all the time, which uses the Clements checklist, and that dataset is very powerful in its own right,” Neate-Clegg says. “So there is no single best option.”

One instance of the disagreement between lists could be the frequent hen Colaptes auratus. The eBird record calls it the northern flicker, a woodpecker. But the BirdLife International record delineates the japanese inhabitants because the yellow-shafted flicker and the western inhabitants because the red-shafted flicker.

In 2020, Neate-Clegg and his colleagues learn a examine that in contrast the raptor species on every record, discovering that solely 68% of species have been constant amongst all 4 lists.

“We thought it would be interesting to investigate taxonomic agreement for all 11,000 bird species,” Neate-Clegg says. “More importantly, we wanted to try and work out what species characteristics led to more or less taxonomic confusion.”

They started by amassing the latest model of every record (the IOC guidelines is up to date biannually, the researchers write, and the Clements and BirdLife lists yearly, whereas Howard and Moore has not been up to date since 2014) and trimming them right down to exclude subspecies and any extinct species. Using a couple of different information processing guidelines, they assigned a single identify to each doable species throughout all 4 lists. Then the comparisons started.

Where the lists agree and disagree

The researchers discovered that the 4 lists agreed on the overwhelming majority of hen species — 89.5%. For the remaining 10.5%, then, they began to search for patterns which may clarify the disagreement. Some of it was seemingly geographical. Birds from the well-studied Northern Hemisphere have been extra more likely to discover settlement than birds from the comparatively understudied Southeast Asia and the Southern Ocean.

Some of it was habitat-based. Agreement was increased for giant, migratory species in comparatively open habitats.

“I think the most surprising result was that agreement was not lower for highly forest-dependent species,” Neate-Clegg says. “We expected these denizens of the rainforest floor to be the most cryptic and hard to study, with more uncertainty on their taxonomic relationships. Yet we found it was actually species of intermediate forest dependency that had lower taxonomic agreement. We believe that these species move about just enough to diverge, but not so much that their gene pools are constantly mixing.”

And a part of the problem with species classification on remoted islands, reminiscent of these in Southeast Asia and the Southern Ocean, was a phenomenon referred to as “cryptic diversification.” Although islands can foster species diversification due to their isolation, generally two populations on completely different islands can seem very comparable, regardless that their genes counsel that they have been remoted from one another for thousands and thousands of years. So, relying on the definition, two populations may depend as two species or as just one.

“In addition,” Neate-Clegg says, “it’s very hard to test the traditional biological species concept on island fauna because we cannot know whether two populations can interbreed to produce fertile young if they are geographically isolated.”

Why it issues

So what if some individuals disagree on species designations? Conservation actions are normally on the species stage, Neate-Clegg says.

“If a population on one island goes extinct, people may care less if it’s ‘just a subspecies,'” he says. “And yet that island is potentially losing a functionally unique population. If it was recognized as a full species it might not have been lost.”

Neate-Clegg hopes the examine factors ornithologists in direction of the teams of species that advantage extra consideration.

“We also want conservation biologists to recognize that cryptic diversity may be overlooked,” he provides, “and that we should consider units of conservation above and below the species level.”


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