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Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

News and research about endangered species from around the world

Madagascar bird driven to extinction by invasive fish

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A bird from the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar called the Alaotra grebe (Tachybaptus rufolavatus ) has been declared extinct by conservation group BirdLife International. BirdLife contributed to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with a major update on the world's bird species, which was released on Wednesday.

The grebe, previously found only on Lake Alaotra in eastern Madagascar, was driven to extinction in part by the introduction of snakehead murrel, a carnivorous fish, to the area. Fishermen's modern nylon gillnets, which caught and drowned the birds, also contributed to their demise. The bird was incapable of long flights, so it had a limited range and was vulnerable to attack.

BirdLife's data counts 10,027 known bird species. With the grebe, 132 of those species are now listed as extinct, whereas another four are listed as extinct in the wild (meaning they only exist in captivity). On the Red List scale, 190 bird species are classified as critically endangered, 372 endangered, 678 vulnerable and 838 near threatened, meaning their situation could change easily.

One species making the critically endangered list for the first time this year is Cuba's Zapata rail (Cyanolimnas cerverai), which is also at risk from introduced species—in this case mongooses and catfish. (The Zapata rail was first discovered by ornithologist James Bond, whose name author Ian Fleming appropriated for his famous British spy.)

There are a few potential bright spots on BirdLife's list: The Azores bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina ), previously listed as critically endangered, has benefited from conservation work to restore natural vegetation on its home of São Miguel Island, and populations have increased enough for it be bumped up to endangered on the Red List.

But the organization cautions that many bird species are at risk due to shrinking wetlands around the globe. "Wetlands are fragile environments, easily disturbed or polluted, but essential not only for birds and other biodiversity but also for millions of people around the world as a source of water and food," Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's global research and indicators coordinator, said in a prepared statement.

Image: Alaotra Grebe by Chris Rose. Courtesy of BirdLife International

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

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