Study: There Are Twice as Many Bird Species as Previously Estimated

Standard taxonomy lumps together bird species that should be separate, a new study suggests, raising the total number of estimated species from 9,000 to 18,000.

By Ben Andrew Henry | December 14, 2016


Our planet could be home to twice as many bird species as previously thought, according to a new assessment of bird taxonomy. In a study published November 23 in PLOS ONE, researchers scrutinized a random sample of 200 bird species and sorted them into smaller categories based on their morphological features and genetic data.  Extrapolating from their results on a small sample of species, the authors estimate that the total number of bird species in the world, once estimate to be 9,000, may be as high as 18,000.

“We are proposing a major change to how we count diversity,” said coauthor Joel Cracraft, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History, in a press release. “This new number says that we haven't been counting and conserving species in the ways we want.”

The morphological analysis drew upon an evolutionary species concept, which defines species as distinct lineages, rather than a biological species concept, which defines species as interbreeding populations. The latter concept is “really an outdated point of view, and it’s a concept that is hardly used in taxonomy outside of birds,” said George Barrowclough, also a Museum ornithologist and coauthor on the paper.

The reassessment of biodiversity among the world’s birds could have implications for conservation efforts.

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Avatar of: James V. Kohl

James V. Kohl

Posts: 498

December 16, 2016

The issue of biodiversity in all vertebrates was linked from ecological variation to nutrient energy-dependent ecological adaptation by natural selection for codon optimality and differences in morphology paired with differences in behavior in the context of the physiology of reproduction and biophysically constrained cell type differentiation.

See: Estrogen receptor α polymorphism in a species with alternative behavioral phenotypes

...our results illustrate a detailed chain of events linking a chromosomal rearrangement to changes in overt social behavior.  

Thomas Hunt Morgan (1933-Medicine) and Schrodinger/Dirac (1933-Physics) collectively linked chromosomal rearrangements to all biophysically constrained biodiversity via their Nobel Prize-winning works.

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