Research being conducted on Tetiaroa atoll will reveal the vast ecological impacts of invasive rat removal and provide a global model for ridge to reef conservation.
Islands are home to a great diversity of rare and threatened animals, plants, and have also been the epicenters of the extinction crisis with invasive species as the leading cause. The motu (islets) of Tetiaroa atoll are no exception—hidden among the natural wonders, introduced, invasive rats threaten the native fauna—eating sea turtle eggs and hatchlings as they emerge from the nest, disrupting seabird nests, and eating native plants.
Despite the challenges and threats to Tetiaroa’s native wildlife and ecosystems, restoration is possible. On islands around the world, invasive rats—including the two species found on Tetiaroa—have been successfully removed, to the dramatic benefit of native flora and fauna. Restoration on Tetiaroa will revive the terrestrial ecosystem to near-pristine condition, creating a major sanctuary for seabirds, sea turtles, and other native fauna and flora.
Tetiaroa Society and Island Conservation are partnering with dozens of scientists to conduct extensive field research, to understand the impacts of invasive species removal on the terrestrial and marine environments, with the intention of developing a model for the sustainable management of tropical islands and surrounding coral reefs. Tetiaroa will serve as a living laboratory to research and understanding the cascading benefits for seabirds, native vegetation, invertebrates, soil, and marine ecology.
Monitoring Seabird Populations
Dr. Sara Converse and Beth Gardener from the University of Washington are using acoustic monitoring to determine the seabird population densities on Tetiaroa while invasive rats are present and following their removal. They are also banding seabirds to see if individuals travel between the motu or restrict themselves to rat-free islets.
Coral Reef Health
Studies in the Chagos Archipelago have shown that natural seabird colonies might increase the health and resilience of coral reefs through the fertilizing effect of nutrients from the bird’s guano. The partners hope to further test this hypothesis and demonstrate the underlying ecological mechanisms. This insight could have global implications for restoring tropical atolls and mitigating the effects of climate change. It will also complement traditional Polynesian knowledge and help raise awareness of the importance of restoring natural land-sea connections for biodiversity conservation and sustainable human development.
Recovery of Native Vegetation
Research conducted on Palmyra Atoll before and after the removal of invasive rats revealed a dramatic change in the abundance of native tree saplings. Building on this research, restoration on Tetiaroa Atoll seeks to analyze the
The comprehensive scientific research conducted alongside the restoration of Tetiaroa’s native habitat will have global implications for conservation and climate change mitigation on tropical atolls. While invasive species removal is already a well-known tool for terrestrial biodiversity conservation, the ongoing research will provide crucial evidence for the cascading benefits of atoll restoration, encouraging similar efforts to restore land-sea ecosystems on a broader scale and elsewhere in the Pacific.
To support the restoration of Tetiaroa atoll and the ongoing research, visit www.BirdsToReef.org to donate today.
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