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Hawaii News

Climate change is killing birds on Garden Isle

  • JIM DENNY / 2004

    A study predicts climate change will accelerate the rate of extinctions of Hawaiian honeycreepers, like this one on Kauai. Warmer temperatures increase the spread of diseases such as avian malaria in forest habitats that were once cool enough to keep mosquito-borne diseases under control, according to the research.

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 Wednesday.

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, as well, said co-author Lisa Crampton, a wildlife ecologist and conservation biologist who is also coordinator of 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. 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.

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    • It’s true that the World3 model developed by the Limits of Growth authors is proving to be accurate over the long term as it shows increases in population result in corresponding increases in pollution and waste, while resources are depleted. However, even if population were static, increases in fossil fuel consumption would still result in global warming and its consequences, like those discussed in the article.

  • The planet began with higher CO2 and low O2 levels. It was hot and inhospitable to all but the most primitive life forms (algae). Over vast stretches of time, these tiny creatures labored across the planet to reproduce, CO2 and sun-energy were combined to make their bodies and oxygen was released. As each tiny cell died, it was pulled to the earth and laid to rest one on top of the other. Reproducing, oxygenating, trapping carbon and dying, layer upon layer getting burried burried deep in the ground.

    These planet changing life-forms were able to adjust the balance of atmospheric O2 and CO2, making the Earth cooler and hospitable to more complex life, especially animals, like us.

    In the blink of an eye, humans are plundering these ancient graves, burning the corpses of our tiny ancestors for the energy trapped inside, and releasing the taped CO2 as well. We are returning the planet to that early, hot and unforgiving climate. A climate we and most current life forms are poorly suited for. Warm, acidic oceans, violent storms, punishing heat waves, extremes of rainfall and drought.

    Lord, almighty creator and sustainor, please help us and forgive us for what we have already done to your precious gift of the living planet earth. Open our eyes and ears and minds and hearts the the reality of our options and consequences. Please help us to make righteous choices, guided by love and by acceptance of your will and of the limits you have set for creation, and not by fear or lust for power.

    • Do you know that the alarmist climate changers don’t ever take into account one factor? That being the role our sun plays in our ever changing climate.
      We know that there are varying levels of solar activity and that they impact our climate. It must not be convenient to account for this in the data. So…
      It must be us humans, especially the meat eaters.

      • I agree it has been said that the rise in Earth’s average temperature is also happening on every planet within our solar system, their average temperatures are also rising with no humans.

  • You know, I have never seen a poor environmentalist. I do not consider those that put on the show of farming without the aid of technology to be poor either. Poor my foot. The land they are farming organically was not free. They had the money to buy it. Just like those insisting we give up modern conveniences and say, go to electric cars. Last time I checked, a Tesla is in the price range of a mid size luxury car. Do your part to save the earth, starting at $40,000.

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