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Conservation Research and Discoveries of 2017

2017 was a profound year for island research and discoveries around the world.

By: Emily Heber

Hawaiian Seabird’s in Urgent Need of Protection

Two native Hawaiian seabird species, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red-listed Vulnerable Hawaiian Petrel and Endangered Newell’s Shearwater are experiencing steep decline according to a new research paper published in The Condor. The paper, titled “Declining population trends of Hawaiian Petrel and Newell’s Shearwater on the island of Kaua’i, Hawaii, USA” reveals that the native populations have declined by 78% and 94% respectively over the past 20 years. The causes identified by the researchers include power line collision, light pollution, invasive species, and diseases.

Efforts to control invasive species populations have been undertaken to benefit the Hawaiian Petrel and Newell’s Shearwater. However, significant threats still exist. Not only is conservation crucial for the survival of these species, but it is also critical for the health of Hawai’i’s ecosystems. Although the decline is a reason for alarm, conservationists are hopeful that continued efforts to protect these endangered species from invasive predators will ultimately be fruitful and save the rare seabirds.

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Newell’s Shearwater Chick. Credit: Island Conservation

Hawaiian Hoary Bat Discovered on Kaho’olawe Island

Recently, during a restoration effort by Island Conservation and our partners, an exciting discovery was made on Kaho’olawe Island, Hawai’i. After two decades of speculation, researchers have found that the endemic, Endangered Hoary Bat, also known as ‘ope’ape’a, is present on the island. The Hoary Bat is Hawai’i’s only native land mammal. Hoary bats were once found throughout the Hawaiian Islands and can still be found on The Big Island, Maui, and Kaua’i. Now, researchers have confirmed suspicions that the species can be found on Kaho’olawe Island. Confirmation of the species on the island offers hope that conservation efforts could help recover the Endangered species not only on Kaho’olawe but also on neighboring islands.

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Hawaiian Hoary Bat. Credit: Frank Bonaccorso/USGS

To Save Species from Extinction, Focus on Islands

New research published in the journal Science Advances this year found that nearly half the Earth’s highly threatened vertebrate extinctions occur on islands. However, effective management of invasive species, a primary driver of extinctions on islands, could benefit 95 percent of the 1,189 threatened island species identified in the research survey. Islands represent merely 5.3 percent of the world’s land area, yet have hosted 61 percent of all recorded extinctions since 1500. The majority of these extinctions were driven by invasive species, particularly rodents and feral cats, which are responsible at least in part for 44 percent of bird, mammal, and reptile extinctions in recent centuries. By focusing on protecting native species on islands, conservationists can save species from extinction.

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Floreana Mockingbirds no longer exist on their namesake island due to invasive species, but conservationists are hopeful that with restoration efforts they will one day be able to return. Credit: Bill Weir/Island Conservation

Re-vegetation of San Nicolas Island

San Nicolas Island, the most remote of the California Channel Islands, is in recovery after invasive feral cats were removed in 2010. The San Nicolas Channel Island Fox, the Island Night Lizard, and other native plants and animals are now rebounding. The island, now free of invasive feral cats, has once again begun to flourish and is showing signs of revival that researchers did not expect.

The newest species to land on the discovery list is Seaside Cistanthe (Cistanthe maritima) which grows along the coast of Southern California and some of the Channel Islands. Seaside Cistanthe is one of three flowering plants that have been newly discovered on San Nicolas Island in the past two years. These discoveries are also considered to be indicative of the type of vegetation once found along the Southern California mainland and could inform conservation both on and offshore.

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San Nicolas Channel Island Fox hiding in the brush. Credit: Island Conservation

Featured Photo: Aerial View of Kaho’olawe. Credit: Olivier Langrand/Island Conservation

About Emily Heber

Emily is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Zoology. As a student, she discovered that she had a passion for the conservation of endangered species and their ecosystems. Her background in informal education has allowed her the opportunity to share her passion for animals with others, something she seeks to continue doing while working with the communication team. In her spare time, Emily enjoys exploring the amazing hiking trails found in Santa Cruz and tries to SCUBA dive whenever possible. Emily is excited to join the Island Conservation team and to help share the amazing work that is being done here.

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