Most American Bird Species Survived Forest Cuts

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Only four of 160 bird species have become extinct in eastern North America because so few were native to the region and could survive elsewhere, a University of Tennessee zoologist says.

In the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, UT’s Stuart Pimm says the number of North American birds which became extinct is low because they were able to relocate when their forests were cleared.

“Forest losses (in North America) have been extensive, but they were not concurrent,” Pimm says in the article. And few birds native to the region were “range-restricted” and could move elsewhere as their forests were cut, he says.

“At most, there are 28 species of birds restricted to the region. Only these species would be at risk, even if all the forests were cleared.”

In contrast to eastern North America, Pimm says, small regions of (South American) tropical forest often have hundreds of native bird species which cannot survive elsewhere.

“Many tropical forests are rich in such species and thus are likely to lose many of them following deforestation,” Pimm says.

Pimm’s co-author of the NAS article is Robert A. Askins, a zoologist at Connecticut College.

Pimm and UT-Knoxville zoologist John Gittleman, in the July issue of Science magazine, said the rate of bird species extinction worldwide will be 10 times higher in 100 years.

Contact: Dr. Stuart Pimm (423-974-1981)

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