A new study from Tel Aviv University’s School of Zoology says humans have caused the extinction of several hundred bird species over the past 50,000 years.
The study, conducted in cooperation with the Weizmann Institute, extensively reviewed the scientific literature on extinct birds and identified at least 469 avian species that have become extinct from the world over the past few tens of thousands of years, on the basis of remains found in archaeological and paleontological sites around the world.
However, “we believe that the real number [of species] is much higher, ”the scientists said.
Researchers believe that the extinctions were caused primarily by humans who hunted birds for food, or by animals introduced into ecosystems by humans who then fed on the birds and / or their eggs.
They noted that many ancient remains had been found at human sites and appeared to have been eaten, and that a species disappearance appeared to occur shortly after humans arrived in the area.
Researchers believe humans may be responsible for the loss of about 10 to 20 percent of all avian species. They said the vast majority of extinct species shared several characteristics: they were large, they lived on islands, and many of them were unable to fly.
They postulated that these birds were easier targets for humans as well as attractive, as each killed bird provided its hunters with copious amounts of food.
They noted a well-documented example being the moa bird in New Zealand, with 11 moa species endangered a few hundred years after humans first arrived there.
According to Professor Shai Meiri of Tel Aviv University, who led the research, “our study indicates that before the major extinction of the last few millennia, many other large, even giants, as well as flightless birds lived on our globe, and the diversity of birds living on the islands was much greater than today.
He added: “We hope that our findings can serve as warning signals about bird species currently threatened with extinction, so it is important to check if they have similar characteristics. It should be noted, however, that conditions have changed considerably, and today the main cause of the extinction of species by humans is not hunting but rather the destruction of natural habitats.
The research was recently published in the Journal of Biogeography.