RESEARCH NEWS: Market data and expert opinion identify bird declines from the pet trade

4 05 2015

Our paper “Using market data and expert opinion to identify overexploited species in the wild bird trade” has been accepted for publication in Biological Conservation. I summarized the gist of the study and our main results in the list below. More information and images can be found in the Princeton University press release. See comments below for press coverage of this paper.

  • The pet trade involves 1/3 of the world’s bird species.
  • Very few data exist on the effects of the pet trade on wild bird populations.
  • Since so few data are available, non-traditional scientific approaches are needed.
  • We polled expert ornithologists to characterize changes in bird populations over time in Sumatra, Indonesia.
  • We then studied changes in market price and trade volume to see if market data could identify declining species.
  • Species with increasing price but decreasing trade volume declined in the wild.
  • Some species that increased in both price and trade volume also declined.
  • Case studies of the Yellow-crested Cockatoo and Bali Myna suggest that species increase in price and volume as they become popular. Then, as popularity increases and supply is unable to keep up with demand, price increases further, while trade volume and wild population size decrease.
  • Only two of the 14 regionally declining species are on the IUCN Red List.
  • Our results suggest that market data can be used to prioritize field studies on declining species.

New species of flycatcher described 15 years after its discovery

24 11 2014

Our description of a new species of bird, the Sulawesi Streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa sodhii was just published in PLOS ONE. The species, which is known only from Sulawesi, Indonesia, was discovered in 1997 by Ben King and colleagues. Since then it has been observed at several sites on Sulawesi but it has received no formal study. Our research team, involving Michigan State University, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, and several other universities collected the first specimens of the species and made the first audio recordings of its song. We then compared its plumage, structure, voice, and genetics to similar flycatchers and found that it is certainly a new species. Its plumage is most similar to the Gray-streaked Flycatcher but its structure and genetics are closest to the Asian Brown Flycatcher. We named the species after my late Ph.D. supervisor Navjot Sodhi. Navjot uncovered the effects of deforestation on Southeast Asian birds and was an outstanding mentor to me and to Ding Li Yong, a co-author of the paper.

Here is some of the media coverage of our paper:

National Public Radio

Wall Street Journal

Washington Post

Audubon Magazine

Dan di Bahasa Indonesia!

Mongabay (Bahasa Indonesia)

Wall Street Journal (Bahasa Indonesia)

New paper published on the effects of birdwatchers’ playback

15 10 2013

Our paper on how birdwatchers’ audio playback affects the behavior of birds was just published in PLOS ONE. Birdwatchers benefit conservation by supporting ecotourism, but they may have negative effects on the ecosystems they visit. One potentially negative impact comes from the use of recorded vocalizations to attract species of interest. Despite the importance of this issue, the effects of birdwatchers’ playback have not yet been investigated in a peer-reviewed study. We tested for the effects of birdwatchers’ playback on the vocal behavior of Plain-tailed Wrens and Rufous Antpittas in Ecuador. We found that both species produced more vocalizations after playback, but wrens essentially stopped responding after 12 days of repeated playback. Increased vocalizations after playback could be interpreted as a negative effect of playback if birds expend energy, become stressed, or divert time from other activities. In contrast, the habituation we documented suggests that frequent, regular birdwatchers’ playback may have minor effects on wren behavior.

Check out the media coverage of this article here:

Front page of the Wall Street Journal here and here.


17 06 2013

New paper on migration timing in Asian birds accepted for publication in Climate Research. In this study we found delayed autumn arrival in two long-distance migrants, Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis, and Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea in Singapore. These phenological shifts probably resulted from climate change and could affect the timing of other events in the species’ annual cycles.