Forest losses predict bird extinctions in eastern North America.
Claims that there will be a massive loss of species as tropical forests are cleared are based on the relationship between habitat area and the number of species. Few studies calibrate extinction with habitat reduction. Critics raise doubts about this calibration, noting that there has been extensive clearing of the eastern North American forest, yet only 4 of its approximately 200 bird species have gone extinct. We analyze the distribution of bird species and the timing and extent of forest loss. The forest losses were not concurrent across the region. Based on the maximum extent of forest losses, our calculations predict fewer extinctions than the number observed. At most, there are 28 species of birds restricted to the region. Only these species would be at risk even if all the forests were cleared. Far from providing comfort to those who argue that the current rapid rate of tropical deforestation might cause fewer extinctions than often claimed, our results suggest that the losses may be worse. In contrast to eastern North America, small regions of tropical forest often hold hundreds of endemic bird species.
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