Why birds matter: from economic ornithology to ecosystem services
Birds are conspicuous in many habitats, occur worldwide, are ecologically diverse, and are better known than other vertebrate groups. Birds devour pests, pollinate flowers, disperse seeds, scavenge carrion, cycle nutrients, and modify the environment in ways that benefit other species. Investigation of these ecosystem functions directly as ecosystem services has grown immensely over the last two decades and the ecological relevance of birds is well established. Birds are also observed, fed, and used as artistic and spiritual inspiration by millions of people around the globe. Yet the economic relevance of birds is not widely appreciated and the economic relevance to human society of birds’ ecological roles is even less understood. Quantifying the services provided by birds is crucial to understand their importance for ecosystems and for the people that benefit from them. In this paper, we briefly review the rise and fall of economic ornithology and call for a new economic ornithology with heightened standards and a holistic focus within the ecosystem services approach. Birds’ ecological roles, and therefore, ecosystem services, are critical to the health of many ecosystems and to human well-being. By understanding and valuing bird services and disservices through careful natural history research, we can better assess the environmental consequences of bird declines and extinctions and communicate these findings to the public and policy makers, thereby increasing public support for the conservation of birds and their habitats.