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Climate change blamed for collapse of Hawaiian forest birds


    The Iiwi bird, as seen above — an endemic Hawaiian honeycreeper — is found on all of the main Hawaiian Islands. A new study predicts climate change will accelerate the rate of extinctions of Hawaiian honeycreepers.

Native forest birds on Kauai are rapidly dying off and facing the threat of extinction as climate change heats up their habitat and allows mosquito-borne diseases to thrive, according to a study released today.

Higher temperatures caused by global warming increase the spread of diseases such as avian malaria in wooded areas once cool enough to keep them under control, the research says. The findings are an early warning for forest birds on other islands and other species worldwide that rely on rapidly disappearing habitat, according to the study published in the journal Science Advances.

Most of Hawaii’s forest birds are restricted to forests in high elevations where disease has been seasonal or absent. A sharp increase in disease has occurred over a 15-year period in the upper-elevation forests of Kauai’s Alakai Plateau, a highly eroded crater of an extinct volcano, the study said.

“If native species linearly decline at a rate similar to or greater than that of the past decade, then multiple extinctions are likely in the next decade,” it warns.

Two Hawaiian honeycreeper species — akikiki and akekee — are endangered. A petition is asking for the iiwi to be listed as endangered, too, said co-author Lisa Crampton, a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist who is also coordinator for the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Project.

The authors used long-term survey data collected by state and federal biologists to document the decline of Kauai’s native forest birds, along with surveys tallying the prevalence of avian diseases. Some co-authors went into the forests to count birds, while others analyzed the data, Crampton said.

The scientists found an increase in mosquitoes in the birds’ habitat, along with warmer temperatures in the area. Those are some of the correlations that led them to believe climate change is accelerating diseases, Crampton said.

While global warming is a “prime suspect” for the precipitous decline in the birds, other factors such as non-native plants and animals are contributing to the problem, the study said.

The authors describe climate change as a “tipping point” for the sensitive birds.

The study is a “signal that we need to do something about global warming and mosquitoes,” said Sam Ohu Gon, senior scientist and cultural adviser for the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, which was not part of the study.

It’s only a matter of time before mosquito-borne diseases become commonplace in Hawaii, he said.

There are also cultural reasons to care about the study, he said, explaining that Native Hawaiians view birds, plants and animals as ancestors.

Crampton notes that feathers adorned regalia of ancient Hawaiian chiefs.

“If we lose these forest birds, we lose our connection to our past,” she said, adding that they are also integral to Hawaii’s watersheds.

“Even though the situation is dire, it’s not too late,” she said. “It’s not hopeless.”

State, federal and nonprofit agencies are moving to control rodents that prey on nests and fence off habitats to invasive animals such as pigs and goats, among other actions requiring public support, Crampton said.

In addition, individuals’ efforts to reduce their carbon footprint will go a long way.

“Everything we can do to slow down the rate of climate change is going to help the birds,” she said.


Science Advances:

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  • Sounds like these guys are grasping at straws to me. I’d like to see some hard data. It feels warmer and it seems there are more mosquitos this year so CLIMATE CHANGE! How about you check the rat and feral cat population in those forests and let me know what you find.

    • There is a link given in the article to the full scientific paper: Science Advances: The main conclusion is based on data showing the parallel shift in temperature and avian malaria moving to higher elevations. If you really are interested in the causes of population loss and possible extinction of these native birds, I encourage you to read this well-written article, and not base your opinions on the synopsis in the newspaper, which is rather vague in describing the observations and the basis for the conclusions.

  • Maybe some birds could be captured and kept in “captivity” before its too late. Sounds crazy but its better than hoping that climate change and all the other problems out there get solved.

    • Early Hawaiian’s defiantly put many a beautiful birds to extinction as some jobs were dedicated bird hunters just for the purpose of collecting feathers for tribal decorations. That being said the few remaining are what the article is talking about. Hopefully its not to late and kudos to the research being done today to save the remaining few.

      • You are wrong there is no proof of your statement. What did it was the introduction of diseases thru the mosquito that led to the extinction. Better do research before you make statements like that.

  • Yeah might as well Blame Climate Change. The rise in Hawaii’s Population..wait, wait Oh yeah Let’s Blame Climate Change. The Rise in ISIS let’s Blame Climate Change. Hillary’s Sinking Numbers in the the polls,let’s Blame Climate Change! Obama Pay’s 1.7 Billion dollar ransom to Iran….let’s Blame Climate Change.

  • Its climate change; pay no attention to invasive animals such as feral cats, pigs and goats – even the beloved mongoose.
    What is the name of the “study” that this article is wholly based on? Who is the author?

  • My opinion hasn’t changed. Here’s a previous post:4-22-14

    >> The issue is not whether the planet is warming, although even that is debated by some as being part of a natural cycle, but rather what impact can we have on it. Yes, we should move forward to manage our resources and maintain a healthy planet, but the issue is what to do about it. I support private industry solutions. I do not support more Solyndras and crony capitalism associated with “climate change.” More government isn’t the answer to climate change. Redistribution of wealth through the government is not the best way to address the issue.

    The issue of “Climate change” is now a tool for globalization. Congress should be making laws (and treaties), not the executive branch. Voters better wake up or you’ll get what you deserve.

    • Concerning the issue of “climate change”, what’s most disturbing is that an honest debate among scientists without agendas (meaning they will directly benefit from certain policies) seems to be absent. International bodies propose solutions that impact certain countries, such as the U.S., while aiding other countries. The truth is, for every dollar spent through our government or especially foreign organizations on “climate change”, a small fraction actually is applied to the cause, with questionable impact on climate change. However, the corruption associated with the “global” initiatives is beyond belief.

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