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Journal Articles Ecological Indicators Year : 2017

Tiny terminological disagreements with far reaching consequences for global bird trends


Various combinations of data and expert opinion have been used to select species for indices of bird trends. Commonly these indices break species into groups based on their habitat preference such as woodland specialist, farmland specialist and generalist birds. It is unclear what influence differences in how species are allocated to these groups might have on trends in these indices. There is uncertainty surrounding reported trends in these bird groups with studies variously showing declines or increases in prevalence. This is usually attributed to ecological factors but if studies classify bird groups differently this variation may be due to inconsistency in classification. Disagreement about whether these bird groups are stable, increasing or declining has the potential to obscure important changes in bird prevalence and impede appropriate, timely conservation. We examined how consistently European and Australian researchers classified woodland, farmland and generalist birds, and whether this affected the trends in indices of these groups. Researchers from both regions classified species differently, and the population trends seen in these groups were strongly affected by differences in classification. While all classifications we studied suggest that populations are consistently declining for Australian woodland and European farmland birds and increasing for European woodland birds. European generalist and Australian farmland and generalist birds may be seen as increasing or decreasing in prevalence depending on classification. Our results question the current practice of idiosyncratically classifying indicators in scientific research and conservation. Current practice is making it more difficult to infer whether, when and how to preserve bird groups in Europe and Australia, potentially leading to sub-optimal biodiversity outcomes. We offer suggestions for building consensus on how to classify these bird groups in order to provide more reliable evidence to support conservation decisions.

Dates and versions

hal-01483988 , version 1 (06-03-2017)



Hannah Fraser, Jean-Baptiste Pichancourt, Alain Butet. Tiny terminological disagreements with far reaching consequences for global bird trends. Ecological Indicators, 2017, 73, pp.79-87. ⟨10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.09.033⟩. ⟨hal-01483988⟩
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