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Report: 100 Amazon Bird Species Are at Greater Risk of Extinction Due to Deforestation

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Deforestation in the Amazon has put nearly 100 bird species at greater risk of extinction, the International Union for Conservation of Nature announced (IUCN) on Thursday. The news comes in conjunction with the release of the 2012 update on the world’s bird species for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, data for which is compiled and updated every four years by conservation group BirdLife International.

Among the species at risk in the Amazon are the now-critically endangered Rio Branco antbird (Cercomacra carbonaria), which was listed as “Near Threatened” just four years ago. According to BirdLife, the species has a very small range in Brazil and Guyana. The construction of new roads in the antbird’s habitat has made it easier to clear land for cattle ranching and soy production. According to current projections, the antbird’s habitat will disappear completely in 20 years.

BirdLife also downgraded the hoary-throated spinetail (Synallaxis kollari) from the same Rio Branco region of Brazil and Guyana from “Endangered” to “Critically Endangered.” The organization says the bird has just 206 square kilometers of suitable habitat, which could shrink 83.5 percent in the next 11 years.

In a prepared release about the Red List update, BirdLife blamed Brazil’s recently weakened Forest Code for increasing the rate of deforestation in that country. The new laws, a portion of which Brazil President Dilma Rousseff vetoed in May, lowered the amount of forested land that farmers and ranchers are required to keep on their properties. Leon Bennun, BirdLife director of science, policy and information, warned: “We have previously underestimated the risk of extinction that many of Amazonia’s bird species are facing.” He also said, “the situation may be even worse than recent studies have predicted.”

The 2012 Red List update covers more than 10,000 bird species, 197 of which are listed as “Critically Endangered.” An additional 389 species are listed as “Endangered,” 727 as “Vulnerable,” and 880 as “Near Threatened.”

Only two species had their Red List categories improved in this update. One of them, the Rarotonga monarch (Pomarea dimidiata), has been upgraded from “Endangered” to “Vulnerable.” Endemic to the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, the monarch was down to its last 35 to 50 birds in 1983. Conservation efforts including a captive breeding program and the removal of alien predators such as black rats from the islands have increased the species’s population to around 380 individuals.

The other species with a category improvement was the Ua Pou monarch (Pomarea mira) of French Polynesia. Last officially recorded in 1985, the bird was listed as extinct in 2006. After an unconfirmed sighting in 2010, the monarch is now listed by the IUCN as “Critically Endangered (possibly extinct).” That’s not much of an improvement, but at least it is hope.

Photo 1: The critically endangered Rio Branco antbird (Cercomacra carbonaria) © Mikael Bauer. Photo 2: The Rarotonga monarch (Pomarea dimidiata) © Hugh Robertson. Both courtesy of IUCN

John R. Platt About the Author: Twice a week, John Platt shines a light on endangered species from all over the globe, exploring not just why they are dying out but also what's being done to rescue them from oblivion. Follow on Twitter @johnrplatt.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Gatnos 12:22 pm 06/8/2012

    Let’s see, we are supposed to be concerned that while the Brazilians are trying to feed their people through the expansion of agriculture; the habitat of a few birds is being diminished. Sorry, but no sale here. In my book, people come before animals any time.

    Link to this
  2. 2. 2:24 pm 06/8/2012

    Industrial logging rarely if ever benefits local communities. Brazil’s poorest people would do better from development of the eco-tourism sector. Those who are struggling rarely have the capital to buy huge forest-destroying machinery. I’ve written a petition asking Brazil’s president to veto the weakened forest laws:

    If you agree, would you please sign it and share with friends? Thank you.

    Link to this
  3. 3. timbo555 10:26 pm 06/8/2012

    More than once I have asked anyone at all to list for me any of the following that have become extinct in the past thirty years:

    Any ten mammals
    Any ten fish
    Any ten mollusks
    Any ten birds
    Any ten insects
    Any ten reptiles

    I’m probably missing some whole class, but you get the idea. If we are in the midst of the latest “Great Extinction” in world history, then there must be someone who can demonstrate it with real world facts rather than “estimates” based on Global Climate Models.

    In fact, I am willing to bet that we have discovered more new species in each of the above categories in the past ten years than we have lost to extinction in the past fifty.

    Thanks, I’ll hold my breath til I get a reply……

    Link to this
  4. 4. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 9:21 am 06/9/2012

    Seriously? 60 seconds of Google research will give you those answers. Read my archives. I’ve announced dozens of extinctions and I haven’t covered but a fraction of them. But I won’t hold my breath that anything I say will change your mind.

    Link to this
  5. 5. timbo555 7:09 pm 06/9/2012

    John I just spent ten minutes on Google having Googled “Extinct Mammals” and I have lists of mammals that have gone extinct in the late 19th century, the early 20th century, and the tiniest number that have gone extinct prior to 1970.

    I get the same result with a much more in-depth search with different permutations of the same subject. You are right, if there is as you say a sixth mass extinction going on, we should have obvious evidence of such.

    So, now that I’ve got youre ear so to speak, perhaps you could supply me with said lists, which is what I asked for in the first place. I’m happy to to follow up on any links you want to send me to, but it ought to an easy thing for you to just enumerate them.

    For that matter, since you are the SCIAM expert on extinction, it might be helpful-and not a little sobering- for you to list all the documented extinctions since say, 1950. You could list the extinctions for one class of animal every week. If you are about the business of alerting the public to this catastrophe, what better way, and better venue than this?

    In any event I would appreciate your help. I am apparently too stupid to use Google effectively in this mattter….

    Link to this
  6. 6. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 8:31 pm 06/10/2012

    The IUCN lists 801 recent extinctions: (click on the “extinct” tab in the center of the screen).

    Another 3,879 species are listed as “critically endangered.”

    More than 5,600 are listed as “endangered.”

    Thousands more don’t even make these lists because there’s not enough data on them.

    I think those are some pretty good lists for you.

    Link to this
  7. 7. timbo555 3:38 pm 06/11/2012


    “Thousands more don’t even make these lists because there’s not enough data on them”.

    So, the crystal clear logic here is that they MUST be extinct, because we have no idea whether they’re extinct or not? I like it.

    Another question for you, John: What does “Regionally” extinct mean? Could that mean, that a species of mollusk, for instance, which is known to be extinct around the waters of say, Hawaii, still thrives elswhere, Like in Australia or Indonesia? If that’s the case, it doesn’t really belong on the list, does it? I mean, It’s not really extinct according to any definition I’ve read.

    And a cursory examination of the data you sent me lists 802 extinctions recently which is kind of a paltry number when put up against the 114,000 NEW species discovered last year alone, don’t you think?

    I am really going to study up on this whole extinction thing, because it seems to me that we have to be careful about alarming the public with erroneous information. I want to thank you in advance for answering the many questions I will neccessarily have. I always defer to the experts in such things.

    Link to this
  8. 8. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 4:58 pm 06/11/2012

    No, you’re making a leap in logic there. I didn’t say the “data deficient” species were extinct. It means the health of those thousands of species is unknown or not properly assessed. There are only so many scientists and so many dollars for study spread out around the world.

    This ties into your comments on the 802 list being “paltry.” Remember, this is confirmed or suspected extinctions. Many species are not declared extinct until decades after they have last been seen, because it’s incredibly rare that death of the very last individual is observed. That’s only happened a handful of times.

    I see that 114,000 number a lot, but it’s rarely used accurately. That was a count generated by a three-year effort (2006-2009) to compile records of new species previously identified worldwide but not listed in a central database. The very same team that came up with that number concluded that habitats are being destroyed faster than the species that live in them can be counted. If they can’t be identified / counted before their habitats are lost, they never will be. &

    Regionally extinct means a species has been extirpated (removed/exterminated) from a major portion of its former habitat. For example, all of these species used to exist in Ohio but now no longer do: A regional extinction can create spin-off effects such as taking a major player out of an ecosystem (screwing up the food web) or eliminating migration corridors from one location to another (preventing genetic exchange between populations). A regional extinction is the first step toward an actual extinction — if not a chain reaction of extinctions.

    I appreciate your questions and interest. I’m moving on to reporting on the next species we need to worry about.

    Link to this
  9. 9. timbo555 9:06 pm 06/11/2012

    Yes, by all means go worry about the next species.

    Link to this
  10. 10. tonypov 3:30 pm 06/13/2012

    The next species? Surely at some point it will be us, as we radically change the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans via huge, rapid carbon releases.

    Timbo and John should join us in the Amazon…
    for further insights on bird conservation.

    Link to this
  11. 11. vdinets 11:44 pm 06/13/2012

    Birds: thin-billed curlew, Eskimo curlew, Imperial woodpecker, nukupuu, Hawaiian crow (still a few in captivity), poo-uli, kamao, Alaotra grebe, Atitlan grebe, Guadalupe storm-petrel.

    Fishes: at least 300 species went extinct in Lake Victoria alone, following the introduction of the Nile perch.

    Mollusks: all endemic species of Aral Sea (about 40 mollusks, a few fishes and lots of other stuff) went extinct in 1970-1990, when the sea turned into a saline cesspool due to the diversion of all inflow for agriculture.

    Reptiles: it is estimated that at least a few dozen species, most of them undescribed, as well as numerous amphibians, small mammals, and invertebrates, went extinct on the island of Cebu when its last forests were logged.

    Link to this
  12. 12. John R. Platt in reply to John R. Platt 11:01 am 06/14/2012

    Thanks for adding to the discussion!

    Link to this
  13. 13. vdinets 9:11 am 06/20/2012

    Oh, and don’t forget hundreds of amphibian species that went extinct in the last 20 years because of the chytrid fungus, which was created and spread by the exotic pet trade.

    Link to this

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