Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Behavioural plasticity is associated with reduced extinction risk in birds


Ducatez, Simon; Sol, Daniel; Sayol, Ferran; Lefebvre, Louis (2020), Behavioural plasticity is associated with reduced extinction risk in birds, Dryad, Dataset,


Behavioural plasticity is believed to reduce species vulnerability to extinction, yet global evidence supporting this hypothesis is lacking. We address this gap by quantifying the extent to which birds are observed behaving in novel ways to obtain food in the wild: based on a unique dataset of >3,800 novel behaviours, we show that species with a higher propensity to innovate are at a lower risk of global extinction and are more likely to have increasing or stable populations than less innovative birds. These results mainly reflect a higher tolerance of innovative species to habitat destruction, the main threat for birds.


This dataset gathers information on foraging innovations, extinction risk, population trend, threats, biogeographic range, diet and habitat breadth, body mass, migratory behaviour, generation length, insularity and presence in urban areas for 8645 bird species. "species" is the species name using the IUCN taxonomy, "animal" is the species name considering the taxonomy from Jetz et al. (2012).

Innovation data:

The innovation data was compiled by systematically searching for reports of new behaviours in the short notes of 204 ornithology journals published between 1960 and 2018. A feeding behaviour was considered an innovation, and hence was included in the database, if it was described in the report with key words such as “novel”, “opportunistic”, “first description”, “not noted before”, “unusual”, etc. Two variables are provided for species foraging innovations: the total number of innovations reported (TotalInnovations) and a binary variable with 0 for species with 0 innovation reported, and 1 for species with at least 1 innovation reported (InnovationYesOrNo). In addition, we distinguished “consumer” innovations (new behaviours involving slight changes, such as the incorporation of new foods in a species diet) and “technical” innovations. Technical innovations refer to reports where the author describes the searching and handling technique itself as novel, regardless of whether the food type was novel or not. The dataset includes the numbers of technical and consumer innovations, and binary variables with 0 for species with no consumer/technical innovation reported, and 1 for species with at least 1 consumer/technical innovation reported.

IUCN data:

Extinction risk, CriterionB (binary variable determining whether a species was considered at risk of extinction because of its small range), population trend, threat exposure (HabitatDestruction, InvasiveSpecies, Overexploitation), urbanisation (Urban: binary variable with 0 for non-urban species, 1 for species occuring in urban habitats) and geographic region (BiogeographicRange) were obtained from the IUCN website in February 2019.


Information for all other variables were obtained from a diversity of sources listed below (see details in the article's methods). Body mass is in g, generation time in years. Research effort is the number of papers published on each species between 1978 and 2008 according to the online version of the Zoological Record (from Ducatez & Lefebvre 2014). Species insularity was coded as 0 for mainland species and 1 for insular species; migratory behaviour as 1 for sedentary or nomadic species, 2 for altitudinal migrant and 3 for long distance migrant. As an index of habitat breadth, we used a recently developed index based on patterns of species co-occurrence within 101 habitat categories. Briefly, a species was allocated a quantitative score based on the diversity of other taxa with which it co-occurs, such that a generalist species is one that occurs in a range of habitat categories that vary considerably in species composition, whereas a specialist species is found only in habitats that contain a consistent suite of other species (index available for all terrestrial vertebrates in Ducatez et al. 2014). We measured diet breadth by counting the number of food categories consumed by adults of each species, using six food categories: vertebrate carrion, vertebrate prey, invertebrate prey, nectar or pollen, fruit or seeds, and leaves or stems (source for the food categories for each bird species: Wilman et al. 2014).


Data sources: 

Birdlife International. (2019).

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D. A. & de Juana, E. Handbook of the Birds of the World alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Retrieved from in November 2017. (2017).

Ducatez, S. & Lefebvre, L. Patterns of Research Effort in Birds. PLoS ONE 9, e89955 (2014).

Ducatez, S., Tingley, R. & Shine, R. Using species co-occurrence patterns to quantify relative habitat breadth in terrestrial vertebrates. Ecosphere 5, art152 (2014).

Dunning, J. B. CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. (CRC Press, Inc., 2007).

IUCN. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Version 2019-1. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2019).

Jetz, W., Thomas, G. H., Joy, J. B., Hartmann, K. & Mooers, A. O. The global diversity of birds in space and time. Nature 491, 444–448 (2012).

Wilman, H. et al. EltonTraits 1.0: Species-level foraging attributes of the world’s birds and mammals. Ecology 95, 2027–2027 (2014).

Usage Notes

Population trend was unknown for 633 species (coded as "NA" in the TrendCode column).

The R code used to analyse this dataset is also provided.