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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Vanishing Birds

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, June 20, 2019/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, birds, sustainability, environment, climate change

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

Hawaiian birds are vanishing from Kaua'i, as reported by Science Advances. The authors say viability of many endemic 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, Hawaiian honeycreepers are songbirds that descended from a small number of original individuals that then 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 Pacific 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) 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 reflect these challenges while the Science 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."

WHB

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