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Why Birds Matter

Avian Ecological Function and Ecosystem Services

For over one hundred years, ornithologists and amateur birders have jointly campaigned for the conservation of bird species, documenting not only birds’ beauty and extraordinary diversity, but also their importance to ecosystems worldwide. But while these avian enthusiasts have noted that birds eat fruit, carrion, and pests; spread seed and fertilizer; and pollinate plants, among other services, they have rarely asked what birds are worth in economic terms. In Why Birds Matter, an international collection of ornithologists, botanists, ecologists, conservation biologists, and environmental economists seeks to quantify avian ecosystem services—the myriad benefits that birds provide to humans.

The first book to approach ecosystem services from an ornithological perspective, Why Birds Matter asks what economic value we can ascribe to those services, if any, and how this value should inform conservation. Chapters explore the role of birds in such important ecological dynamics as scavenging, nutrient cycling, food chains, and plant-animal interactions—all seen through the lens of human well-being—to show that quantifying avian ecosystem services is crucial when formulating contemporary conservation strategies. Both elucidating challenges and providing examples of specific ecosystem valuations and guidance for calculation, the contributors propose that in order to advance avian conservation, we need to appeal not only to hearts and minds, but also to wallets.

See online appendices for the book.

368 pages | 31 halftones, 6 line drawings, 8 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Biological Sciences: Conservation, Ecology


“The endeavor is fascinating because birds of almost all kinds have far more impacts on human life than most humans realize.”

Steve Donoghue | Open Letters Monthly

“For those with an interest in avian/human ecology.”

Ian Paulsen | Birdbooker Report

“An impressive collection of papers that explains how birds fit into our world. It examines birds’ roles in pollination, seed dispersal, nutrient cycling, how birds engineer their habitats, and their economic value. As the subtitle suggests, this book is geared to academic and professional readers, but any serious student of birds will appreciate Why Birds Matter.

Scott Shalaway | Farm and Dairy

"Highly recommended for different types of ornithological audiences, from the amateur involved in conservation objectives to the researcher concentrated on the study of functional diversity, passing through to the scientific communicator."


"Why Birds Matter makes a valuable contribution to the literature and brings together disparate empirical studies examining the ecological functions and ecosystem services provided by birds. Moreover, by highlighting those areas where further research is likely to prove fruitful, the book is likely to prompt other researchers to initiate studies examining other ecosystem services. Some excellent editing has ensured that the chapters are all relatively consistent in terms of style and language used. . . . I would thoroughly recommend it for college, university, and museum libraries and also in the personal libraries of those interested in ecosystem services. I congratulate the editors and contributors for producing such an informative volume."

Mark C. Mainwaring, Lancaster University | Condor

“Such an interesting volume. Authoritative and well-researched, Why Birds Matter will appeal to both ornithologists and conservation biologists—I can see myself referring to it frequently in the future. Authors of each chapter are well chosen world leaders on their topics, and the material is well written and cohesive. It will be an exceedingly useful book to those of us who work on bird conservation and want a one-stop summary of what we know about the contributions of birds to ecosystem services.”

Chris S. Elphick, University of Connecticut

Table of Contents

Foreword by Jeffrey A. Gordon

Chapter 1. Bird Ecosystem Services: Economic Ornithology for the 21st Century
Christopher J. Whelan, Çağan H. Şekercioğlu, and Daniel G. Wenny

Chapter 2. Why Birds Matter Economically: Values, Markets, and Policies
Matthew D. Johnson and Steven C. Hackett

Chapter 3. Trophic Interaction Networks and Ecosystem Services
Christopher J. Whelan, Diana F. Tomback, Dave Kelly, and Matthew D. Johnson

Chapter 4. Pollination by Birds: A Functional Evaluation
Sandra H. Anderson, Dave Kelly, Alastair W. Robertson, and Jenny J. Ladley

Chapter 5. Seed Dispersal by Fruit-Eating Birds
Daniel G. Wenny, Çağan H. Şekercioğlu, Norbert J. Cordeiro, Haldre S. Rogers, and Dave Kelly

Chapter 6. Dispersal of Plants by Waterbirds
Andy J. Green, Merel Soons, Anne-Laure Brochet, and Erik Kleyheeg

Chapter 7. Seed Dispersal by Corvids: Birds That Build Forests
Diana F. Tomback

Chapter 8. Ecosystem Services Provided by Avian Scavengers
Travis L. DeVault, James C. Beasley, Zachary H. Olson, Marcos Moleón, Martina Carrete, Antoni Margalida, and José Antonio Sánchez-Zapata

Chapter 9. Nutrient Dynamics and Nutrient Cycling by Birds
Motoko Fujita and Kayoko O. Kameda

Chapter 10. Avian Ecosystem Engineers: Birds That Excavate Cavities
Chris Floyd and Kathy Martin

Chapter 11. Avian Ecological Functions and Ecosystem Services in the Tropics
Çağan H. Şekercioğlu and Evan R. Buechley

Chapter 12. Why Birds Matter: Bird Ecosystem Services That Promote Biodiversity and Support Human Well-Being
Çağan H. Şekercioğlu, Daniel G. Wenny, Christopher J. Whelan, and Chris Floyd


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