Climate change blamed for collapse of Hawaiian forest birds

Climate change blamed for collapse of Hawaiian forest birds
Researchers documented the rapid collapse of native avifauna, including Hawaiian honeycreepers, on the island of Kaua‘i. They predict multiple extinctions in the next decade, if the current rates of decline continue. Credit: AAAS / Carla Schaffer

Native forest birds on the Hawaiian island of 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, 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 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 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 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 , 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.

Explore further

Hawaii's rarest birds may lose range to rising air temperatures, disease

More information: Collapsing avian community on a Hawaiian island, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1600029 ,
Journal information: Science Advances

© 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Citation: Climate change blamed for collapse of Hawaiian forest birds (2016, September 7) retrieved 22 August 2019 from
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Sep 07, 2016
Isn't it time we sent Exxon, Texaco, Shell and the Koch brothers a bill for their crime against the planet of denying climate change?

Sep 07, 2016
Isn't it time we sent Exxon, Texaco, Shell and the Koch brothers a bill for their crime against the planet of denying climate change?

Along with every OECD leader in the last 20 years. It'd be a crowded little jail cell though.

Sep 07, 2016
Approx 90 companies are responsible for global warming. So, no, Rich is pretty spot on.

Sep 07, 2016
The pathological lies of the AGW Cult and their pathological "science"

Sep 07, 2016
Come on, the world is not warming at present and has not except for the el nino which is now past since about 2006 back as far as 1998 depending on how you look at the data. In 1000 AD it was warmer than at present unless trees in alaska grew under ice which is unlikely. The birds in Hawaii have a problem, it is not global warming it is avian flue. which got to Hawaii thanks to people catching it and bring it there where the mosquitos sucked their blood and spread it to the birds. Lost of habitat from all those people in Hawaii along with cats and rats has not helped things.

Sep 07, 2016
Rich would not be alive and posting if he were not using fossil fuels to eat, move and live so what he really wants is power, power to tell you how to live. A miniature Stalin posting online.

Sep 08, 2016
The Rich's of the world would love show trials and incarcerations of 'deniers'. Of course all of the denier's property would be seized as a partial payment for their crimes against humanity. These poor souls would have been so much happier if they had lived in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. But then again, Stalin did have a nasty habit of purging even his true believers.

Sep 08, 2016
Isn't it time we sent Exxon, Texaco, Shell and the Koch brothers a bill for their crime against the planet of denying climate change?

We could...e.g. by using cars and/or heating/electricity solutions that don't use their products. It's entirely in our power.

Sep 08, 2016
I am on my way. With more insulation I need less heat. We use no A/C.

Our house and car are powered by the PV panels on the roof of the house.

Sep 08, 2016
The AGW Cult and their pathological "science". Kauai has been COOLING since the 1970's

Sep 08, 2016

This article is Junk Science. They don't even try to determine whether the loss of birds is primarily due to AGW or due to the invasive animals species (like snakes). Rubbish!

Sep 08, 2016
As the article makes very clear, climate change is not the primary or only threat to the birds but a 'tipping point' that makes those threats - especially mosquito-borne diseases - more stark.

Sep 08, 2016
I recommend watching this video of the POTUS speaking on climate change,,,

It makes you realize why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in advance of doing anything.
Now @alygoracle can worry more about how to stop all of the global cooling from happening in the future. Global cooling caused by Obama (and all of the other world leaders).

Sep 11, 2016
From the graph you are obviously wrong.
How should I read that graph? Based on the number of years above 24.62C and the number below, it looks to to me like the trend for the forty-one data points 1970-2011 should be down.

Sep 11, 2016
Actually it could be said that climate change has caused the rise and fall of all species. It's the ebb and flow of life on planet Earth.

Sep 11, 2016
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