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Keywords:

  • conservation planning;
  • ecological specialization;
  • extinction risk;
  • independent contrasts;
  • population size;
  • range size

Abstract

One of the most important tasks in conservation biology is identifying species at risk from extinction and establishing the most likely factors influencing this risk. Here, we consider an ecologically well-defined, monophyletic group of organisms, the true hawks of the family Accipitridae, which are not only among the most studied, but also contain some of the rarest bird species in the world. We investigate which intrinsic and extrinsic factors, covering morphology, life history and ecology, covary with International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources threat status, as well as global population size and geographic range size. By decomposing threat status into population size and range size, we test whether any factors are generally important: we found that species with less habitat specialization, a larger clutch size and more plumage polymorphism were associated with lower extinction risk and larger population and range sizes. Species with special habitat requirements might be less capable of dealing with habitat transformation and fragmentation, while species with small clutch sizes might not be able to reverse population declines. Plumage polymorphism might indicate the size of the species' gene pool and could be a good marker of extinction risk. The analyses also emphasized that no single factor is likely to be sufficient when predicting the threat of extinction.