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Wildlife trade targets colorful birds and threatens the aesthetic value of nature

Senior, Rebecca A.; Oliveira, Brunno F.; Dale, James; Scheffers, Brett R.

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Brunno F. Oliveira

James Dale

Brett R. Scheffers


A key component of nature’s contribution to people is aesthetic value.1,2 Charismatic species rally public support and bolster conservation efforts.3,4 However, an insidious aspect to humanity’s valuation of nature is that high value also drives wildlife trade,5,6 which can spearhead the demise of prized species.7–9 Here, we explore the antagonistic roles of aesthetic value in biodiversity conservation by using novel metrics of color to evaluate the aesthetics of the most speciose radiation of birds: passerines (i.e., the perching birds). We identify global color hotspots for passerines and highlight the breadth of color in the global bird trade. The tropics emerge as an epicentre of color, encompassing 91% and 65% of the world’s most diverse and most uniquely colored passerine assemblages, respectively. We show that the pet trade, which currently affects 30% of passerines (1,408/5,266), traverses the avian phylogeny and targets clusters of related species that are uniquely colored. We identify an additional 478 species at risk of future trade based on their coloration and phylogenetic relationship to currently traded species—together totaling 1,886 species traded, a 34% increase. By modeling future extinctions based on species’ current threat status, we predict localized losses of color diversity and uniqueness in many avian communities, undermining their aesthetic value and muting nature’s color palette. Given the distribution of color and the association of unique colors with threat and trade, proactive regulation of the bird trade is crucial to conserving charismatic biodiversity, alongside recognition and celebration of color hotspots.


Senior, R. A., Oliveira, B. F., Dale, J., & Scheffers, B. R. (2022). Wildlife trade targets colorful birds and threatens the aesthetic value of nature. Current Biology, 32, 4299-4305.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Sep 15, 2022
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date Sep 26, 2022
Publicly Available Date Oct 12, 2022
Journal Current Biology
Print ISSN 0960-9822
Publisher Cell Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 32
Pages 4299-4305


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