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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Hawaii's Vanishing Birds

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Monday, August 7, 2017/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, birds, sustainability, environment, climate change

          Animated Graphic of Declining Honeycreeper Populations in Hawaii  (credit: AAAS and Carla Schaffer)

Hawaii's endemic birds are vanishing from the island of Kauai, a new report in Science Advances show. The authors say that the viability of many bird species: 

"has been jeopardized by numerous negative factors over the centuries, but climate change is predicted to accelerate and increase the pressure of many of these threats, leading to extinctions. The Hawaiian honeycreepers, famous for their spectacular adaptive radiation, are predicted to experience negative responses to climate change, given their susceptibility to introduced disease, the strong linkage of disease distribution to climatic conditions, and their current distribution. The rapid collapse of the native avifauna on the island of Kaua‘i corresponds to changes in climate and disease prevalence."

Like Darwin's famous Galapagos finches, the Hawaiian honeycreepers are songbirds that descended from a small number of original species that adapted to Hawaii's diverse habitats and food sources by evolving unique beak shapes, forms, and sizes. Over 50 species of honeycreepers were once known on the remote islands but only a handful remain. Habitat destruction caused multiple extinctions but the introduction of feral animals (rats and cats) as well as insects (mosquitos) in the 1800's was partictularly devestating. The study determined that: 

"non-native avian malaria has greatly influenced the distribution of native Hawaiian birds restricting most species to high-elevation areas where malaria and its mosquito vector are only seasonally present or completely absent due to cool temperatures."

Preservation measures in Hawai'i including captive bird breeding, forest restoration, and removal of feral species can help but climate change accentuates all other stresses. Two videos comment on these challenges while the new report concludes:

"If current rates of decline continue, we predict multiple extinctions in the coming decades. Kaua‘i represents an early warning for the forest birds on Maui and Hawai‘i, as well as other species that are trapped within a climatic range that is rapidly disappearing."



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