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A database of 10,000 bird species shows how measurements of wings, beaks and tails can predict a species’ role in an ecosystem.

Given that many bird species perform important ecological functions, such as pollinating plants, spreading seeds, or controlling pests, the database may help scientists to understand and predict how the loss of species will affect ecosystem health.

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A global team of researchers, led by Imperial College London and University College London, visited museums around the world to find specimens of nearly 10,000 species, covering more than 99 percent of all known bird species. Their results, and the database, are published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The link between body form of each animal species and aspects of their lifestyle, including diet, has previously been proposed, but this is the first time it has been confirmed at such a large scale and with such precise detail.

The senior author of the study, Dr Joseph Tobias, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: “To compile measurements for all bird species has been a massive undertaking. That’s particularly the case considering the hundreds of explorers and biologists over the last 150 years who collected and curated the 70,000 museum specimens on which this work is based.”

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Predictions of a species’ contribution to an ecosystem are often made using estimates of their evolutionary relationships with other speci Read More

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