The EDGE of Existence programme is an initiative of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) whose aim is to profile the top 100 most evolutionarily distinct and endangered species of each taxonomic class, including toads that give birth through their skin and mammals that are immune to cyanide, among many other weird and wonderful creatures. Each species is given a rank depending on its unique characteristics and how endangered it is on a global scale. This rank then determines how much the conservation of the species should be prioritised compared with others in its taxonomic class.
Until now, only the world’s most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) mammals, amphibians and corals had been highlighted, and today the top 100 birds have been announced after an extensive collaborative study between Yale University, Imperial College London, Sheffield University, University College London, Simon Fraser University and the University of Tasmania. Carly Waterman, EDGE Programme Manager at ZSL, says, “Half of the 100 highest-ranked EDGE bird species are receiving little or no conservation attention. We lament the extinction of the dodo, but without action we stand to lose one of its closest relatives, the tooth-billed pigeon or ‘little dodo’, and many other extraordinary birds.”
Carly Waterman went on to say, “The release of the EDGE birds list enables us to prioritise our conservation efforts in the face of a mounting list of endangered species. These one-of-a-kind birds illustrate the incredible diversity that exists in our natural world.” There are 9,993 bird species known to science which represent millions of years of evolution, resulting in the numerous anatomical, physiological and morphological adaptations of birds that are not seen in any other taxonomic class. Many species highlighted in the EDGE lists do not have close relatives and have been evolving independently for millions of years.
Many species on the EDGE lists have been previously overlooked by conservation projects, and the scoring system identifies their importance and how much of a loss to the world their extinction would be. Professor Walter Jetz from Yale University and Imperial College London, lead author of the paper identifying the EDGE birds in the journal Current Biology, said, “By identifying these top 100 species, we can now focus our efforts on targeted conservation action and better monitoring to help ensure that they are still here for future generations to come. As we show, conservation priorities can be adjusted to better conserve the avian tree of life and the many important functions it provides.” EDGE is continuing research on other taxa to build on its database and highlight priority species as well as the urgent need for their conservation.
See the EDGE top 100 bird species
Find out more about the EDGE project
Discover more bird species on ARKive
Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer