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The science of bird conservation

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-26, 15:28 authored by Thomas BrooksThomas Brooks, Collar, NJ, Green, RE, Marsden, SJ, Pain, DJ
Colin Bibby (1948‚Äö-2004) was the quintessential bird conservation biologist. Over his career, he served as lead scientist at two of the world's largest bird conservation organizations, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and BirdLife International. His contributions encompassed detailed autecological studies of rare bird species such as the Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata (e.g. Bibby 1978) and Fuerteventura Stonechat Saxicola dacotiae (e.g. Bibby and Hill 1987), a sweeping synthesis of the techniques of bird conservation science (Bibby et al. 1992, 2000), and pioneering contributions in conservation planning such as the Endemic Bird Areas concept (ICBP 1992). This memorial volume of Bird Conservation International seeks to reflect the breadth of Colin's legacy by presenting papers illustrating the role of ornithological science in saving threatened birds, reviews of novel field and analytical techniques, and syntheses of progress with the development of bird conservation strategies. In the first category, we include studies of albatrosses (Croxall et al.), South Asian vultures (Pain et al.), migratory species (Kirby et al.), and the Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita (Bowden et al.). In the second, we have reviews of surveying bird abundance (Buckland et al.), bird-habitat associations (Lee and Marsden), fluctuating asymmetry (Lens and Eggermont), camera trapping (O'Brien et al.), automated sound recording (Brandes), stable isotopes (Hobson), and socio-economic surveys (MacMillan and Leader-Williams). Finally, we document progress in three key tools for bird conservation planning: atlases (Pomeroy et al.), population indices (Gregory et al.), and the IUCN Red List of threatened bird species (Butchart). We hope that this span from the specifics to the generalities of bird conservation science provides a fitting tribute to Colin's life and work. To set the context for this tribute, however, we take advantage of our editorial privilege to reflect on the state of bird conservation science, and to assess its future potential. The urgency of the task faced by bird conservation science should not be underestimated. No fewer than 1,226 species of birds, out of 9,856 extant species, are threatened with extinction, almost one eighth of the total (BirdLife International 2008a). However, rates of endangerment for other vertebrate classes are worse (Baillie et al. 2004). To what extent is conservation science delivering the scientific knowledge necessary to save those 1,226 threatened birds‚ÄövÑvÆand indeed, biological diversity more generally? In this essay, we tackle five aspects of this question. First, we use information from the Handbook of the birds of the world to assess the prevalence of threatened species studies. Because the intensity of study varies greatly across threatened species, we then explore some factors that correlate with and might help explain this variation. Third, we switch data source to this very journal, specifically manuscripts published in Bird Conservation International over the last five years, to ask where conservation ornithologists come from. We continue this line of enquiry to examine the kinds of questions being pursued concerning threatened bird species. Finally, we speculate on the importance of bird conservation science as a pioneer and model for conservation science in general. We conclude with some suggestions for future priorities for bird conservation science as a discipline.


Publication title

Bird Conservation International



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ISS: 0959-2709 EISS: 1474-0001

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  • Published

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Copyright BirdLife International 2008

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  • Open

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