Brightly and uniquely coloured songbirds are in greater danger of extinction and are more likely to be traded as pets, researchers have discovered.
A team from at Durham University, the University of Florida, and Massey University in New Zealand, found that close to 3,000 bird species globally – approximately 30 per cent of all birds – are traded as pets or products, such as feathers, bills, or eggs.
The researchers made predictions of species not yet traded but which face being hunted based on the association of colour with human decisions to select species for trade.
The researchers explored the potential impact of trade on individual species and the colour palettes to which they contribute by combining global databases of songbird plumage colour, geographic range, extinction risk and prevalence in the pet trade.
Lead author of the study, Dr Rebecca Senior of Durham University, said: “For better or worse, aesthetic value is important to people. This can be a good thing, because it motivates people to care about and fund conservation efforts, but it can also be harmful when it motivates other people to want to trap and own those species.
“Trade can be done sustainably, but we haven’t done a good job of that so far and time is already running out for many wild populations. It’s not just about losing beautiful species, it’s about the continued erosion of biodiversity and, with that, all of the amazing things that nature provides.”
The full study has been published in the journal Current Biology.
Birds with certain colour hues, like azure and yellow, are especially common in the trade, which targets clusters of closely related species.
Songbirds (passerines) are highly sought after in the pet trade, particularly for their beautiful songs. However, songbirds can also be remarkably colourful – a highly desirable trait in other commonly traded species, such as parrots.
Hotspots of songbird colour diversity and uniqueness are concentrated in the tropics. The researchers predict that 478 additional species are likely targets for future trade.
The study team were surprised to discover that pure white appears to be a unique colour that is highly desirable.
The report stated: “An insidious aspect to humanity’s valuation of nature is that high value also drives wildlife trade, which can spearhead the demise of prized species
“This trade is, in large part, driven by humanity’s passion for beauty and aesthetics.”