Mankind’s colonization of the earth over the last 50,000 years has had several catastrophic consequences for other species, including hundreds of species of birds. A new study in the Journal of Biology has found that human activity since the end of the Pleistocene has led to the extinction of at least 469 avian species, including more than two-thirds of the flying birds. The authors of the study examined the scientific literature on all the avian species that became extinct worldwide in the last 50 millennia.
In doing so, they noticed a number of clear patterns that strongly suggest that our ancestors were the main driving force behind many of these extinctions. Significantly, percent 90 percent of all extinct birds lived on the island and disappeared soon after the arrival of humans. This seems quite logical, as birds and their eggs were preyed upon by humans and other animals that may have been tagged with these bipedal migrants.
Researchers have found 116 examples of flying birds that have become extinct during this period. With only 54 species of flying birds alive today, this figure represents a huge proportion of all terrestrial avian species that have existed for the past 50,000 years. Naturally, flying birds hunt easier than what goes in the sky, so it is understood that their numbers have decreased when humans enter their habitat.
In New Zealand, for example, 11 different species of flightless moa became extinct within a few centuries of the arrival of humans. Additional analysis revealed that the average body mass of all extinct bird species is about seven times higher than that of the current avian species. This finding suggests that large birds were significantly more likely to be preyed upon by humans, and is consistent with previous studies that have indicated that large animals first become extinct when humans arrive in new places.
Study author Professor Shai Meiri said in a statement, “In all, we’ve been able to list 469 avian species that have become extinct in the last 50,000 years, but we believe the actual number is much higher.” In their writings, the researchers explained that this suspicion is supported by the fact that “many fossilized birds have been found that have not yet been fully described … and thus excluded from our research.” In addition to highlighting the devastating effects that humans have had on other animals throughout history, the results of this study also enhance our understanding of past avian animals.