Scientists from the Smithsonian using DNA data sets to outline the evolutionary family tree of the Hawaiian honeycreeper have determined that the 56 species of the native bird evolved from the Eurasian rosefinch.
In another important finding, the researchers linked the timing of the evolution of the honeycreeper to the formation of the four main Hawaiian Islands.
“It was fascinating to be able to tie a biological system to geological formation and allowed us to become the first to offer a full picture of these birds’ adaptive history,” said Helen James, a research zoologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and an author of a paper on the study.
Fern Duvall, state Forestry and Wildlife Division wildlife biologist, who was not involved with this study but is working with two of the authors of the paper, James and Rob Fleischer, on a similar project with shorebirds, called the findings “dynamic” and “unique.”
Putting the research in context, Duvall noted that many bird experts believed the honeycreepers to be descendants of the house finch of North America. Instead, the researchers say the Eurasian rosefinch from Asia is the mother bird of the species.
As for the evolutionary discoveries, Duvall said it had been theorized that there was a link between the biologic and geologic development of the birds to the islands. The scientific connection made in the study is new, he said.
“For them to show that that is the case is dynamic,” he said Wednesday. “I think it’s an excellent example that birds’ forms are tied to diverse habitat types.” Continue reading
It appears the effort to eradicate the notorious brown tree snake on Guam and keep it from infesting Hawaii will not fall victim to congressional budget tightening – at least for now.
The program was on the verge of being canceled this week because the fiscal year is ending and Congress has imposed a moratorium on the type of earmark funding that has kept it running for years.
At the last minute, the Defense and Interior departments agreed to pitch in $2.9 million to rescue the effort to secure ports and kill off the snakes for the next nine months, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The brown tree snake was introduced on Guam following World War II and has since decimated native bird species and plagued the island with electrical blackouts caused by snakes infesting transformers. Meanwhile, scientists fear the pest could be accidentally imported to Hawaii and severely damage the island environment and cost hundreds of millions of dollars – or even billions – in economic losses.
“We don’t want a break in service, obviously, and so that’s why there was very much concern over the budget situation,” said Mike Pitzler, who oversees the program as the Hawaii, Guam and Pacific Island state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s wildlife services section, according to The Associated Press.
The departments are committing to only nine months of funding because they are concerned over the annual $5 million cost of the program at a time when all parts of federal government are grappling with budget cuts, the AP reported. The Department of Defense is contributing $2.4 million and Interior is pitching in $500,000.
They’re expected to discuss in coming months how to continue the program for the last quarter of the fiscal year and beyond.
Pitzler told the AP on Thursday that he would look for ways to restructure and cut costs, but he’s not sure how he can do this without affecting the scope of the work.
“My job will be to make sure that our work isn’t compromised, our ability to prevent snakes from leaving Guam is not compromised,” he said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others have questioned over the years why the Pentagon should pay to control snakes on Guam.
The program has been the target of fierce critics of earmarks. In 2009, the Citizens Against Government Waste included brown tree snake control in its “Congressional Pig Book” highlighting alleged examples of government pork barrel spending. Continue reading
Federal officials have taken two dozen endangered songbirds from Nihoa in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and moved them to Laysan 650 miles north in the hope they will establish a new population there and prevent the extinction of the species.
Nihoa Millerbirds are currently only found on Nihoa, where there is a population numbering between 500 and 700. A related subspecies once lived on Laysan but went extinct there after introduced rabbits destroyed the island’s vegetation.
Officials hope establishing a new population will reduce the chances a hurricane or disease outbreak at Nihoa will wipe out the species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its public and private partners moved the birds earlier this month. Officials said Monday the project took five years to plan and cost about $850,000.
The agreement would add 20 plants and three insects to the endangered list
Four plants that are among the “rarest of the rare” in the world are now being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act, along with three Hawaii damselflies and 16 other plants that can be found on Oahu.
An agreement announced Monday between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based, nonprofit environmental organization, would add to the 437 species currently listed as threatened and endangered by the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Service Office in Hawaii, home to some of the rarest and most endangered species on earth.
It a federal offense to harm any plants, or kill or harass any animal, on the list. Continue reading
Maui National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters and Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge Visitor CenterCLICK for Kealia Pond bird images.
AL-SHEEHANIYA, Qatar — Cobalt-plumed and flapping, Jewel, a young Spix’s macaw, hops into a plastic bowl. She’s well trained in the routine. Her handler, Ryan Watson, sets the bowl on a scale. He’s pleased. The 4-month-old parrot is growing.
If Jewel continues to thrive, Watson will soon move her and a companion — a second young macaw shrieking at the far end of the pair’s long enclosure — to a larger aviary, where they will flock with others of their kind.
Though the distance of the move will be short, it has far-reaching implications: It will foster fledgling hope that this rarest of parrots can be saved. Just 76 of the handsome blue birds — endemic to northern Brazil but unseen there in 11 years — are known to exist, all in captivity. Watson was hired by a member of Qatar’s royal family, Sheik Saoud bin Mohammed bin Ali al-Thani, to rescue the species from the edge of extinction and send it soaring back into the Brazilian jungle.
It’s an audacious plan in an improbable locale, this oil-and-gas-rich kingdom on the Arabian Peninsula. With no signs marking it in the flat, arid landscape, a fenced private wildlife compound extends across 1.6 square miles about 20 miles west of the capital, Doha.
Al-Wabra Wildlife Preservation began as a private menagerie with a questionable past. But it has been transformed into an intensive conservation operation. Continue reading
KAILUA-KONA >> A Big Island coalition is trying to propagate one of the world’s rarest plants that had been deemed extinct until it was discovered last summer.
The Kohala Watershed Partnership received a $7,550 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Recovery Branch to protect and restore the endangered plant species Clermontia peleana singuliflora, more commonly known as oha wai, West Hawaii Today reported Friday.
The last species were collected in 1909 and the Fish and Wildlife Service had presumed it was extinct in 1994. But last summer during a survey of rare tree snail population, a Big Island representative for The Nature Conservancy rediscovered the plant in a North Kohala upland forest.
Thomas Lammers, a Clermontia expert at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, identified the plant as oha wai through photographs sent to him.
The watershed partnership, a voluntary coalition of private landowners and state land managers, aims to propagate and plant at least 200 seedlings in a 10-acre fenced, secret location, said Melora Purell, Kohala Watershed Partnership coordinator.
“This plant had not been seen for a century and to be rediscovered is amazing,” she said. “Its survival shows the power of endangered plants, which are often though as weaker. Continue reading
The Hawaii state bird is an endangered species, constantly threatened by mongoose, dogs, rats and other introduced animals even as they cope with the loss of grasslands and forests to development.
But nene geese have found a safe home among the green golf course fairways and ponds of a Kauai resort, and they are thriving — exploding from just 18 birds in 1999 to some 400 today.
In fact, the population at Kauai Lagoons has grown so fast and large the geese are now considered the threat. They pose a public safety hazard to the commercial airliners taking off and landing at the airport next door, forcing the state to scramble to devise a plan to move them somewhere else.
“With the numbers that are nesting, it’s just like, boy there are going to be more and more birds there,” said Paul Conry, administrator of the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife. “If we don’t take action now, they will even get higher and higher in the future.”
The dangers geese present to airplanes became well known after a flock of Canada geese crossed paths with a US Airways plane over New York City in 2009, knocking out both engines and forcing the pilot to bring the aircraft down in the Hudson River.
Similar incidents have caused deaths: 24 airmen in Alaska were killed when a flock of Canada geese got sucked into the left side engine of an Air Force plane in 1995. The jet crashed 43 seconds after takeoff. Continue reading
Several years ago Rob Pacheco, president and founder of Hawaii island-based Hawaii Forest & Trail, took a van load of mainland doctors, all avid birders, to Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge. They were intent on spotting the akiapolaau, a bright yellow honeycreeper that was designated an endangered species in 1967. Although the group stayed out until dark, they were disappointed they weren’t able to see one.
The next day, Pacheco led a California family on their first-ever bird-watching excursion. As he was helping them step off lava rocks onto the fern-covered floor of a rain forest, he heard the song of an akiapolaau behind him. Turning quickly, he spotted the bird in a tree about 10 feet away.
“At the time it was the closest I had ever gotten to an akiapolaau,” Pacheco said. “It was so close that when it sang again, I could see its tongue! The grandmother in the group told me, ‘This is amazing! I’ve never seen a bird through binoculars before!’ I thought of the birders from the day before who really wanted to see an akiapolaau but didn’t — and here was a lady who probably would’ve been just as happy to be looking at a house sparrow. That’s how birding goes sometimes.”
“To see those species you need to be in habitats that can support them,” Continue reading
BRAZZAVILLE – THE rate of destruction of the world’s three largest forests fell 25 per cent this decade compared with the previous one, but remains alarmingly high in some countries, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said.
A report entitled The State Of The Forests in the Amazon Basin, Congo Basin and South-East Asia, was released to coincide with a summit in the Congo Republic bringing together delegates from 35 countries occupying those forests, with a view to reaching a global deal on management and conservation.
The Amazon and the Congo are the world’s first and second biggest forests, respectively, and its third biggest – the Borneo Mekong – is in Indonesia. They sink billions of tonnes of carbon and house two thirds of the world’s remaining land species between them.
The study found that annual rate of deforestation across the three regions, which account for more than 80 per cent of the world’s tropical forests, was 5.4 million ha between 2000 and 2010, down a quarter from 7.1 million ha in the previous decade.
Statistics showed that forest destruction in the Congo basin had remained stable but low over the last 20 years, whilst in South-East Asia the rate of deforestation more than halved. Continue reading