Eruptions, Invasives, and the Montserrat Oriole

Conservation intervention leads to downlisting of Montserrat Oriole.

Sometimes events that are out of human control, such as natural disasters, can damage an ecosystem and threaten native wildlife. This was the case for the Montserrat Oriole (Icterus oberi) in the 1990’s, but years of conservation efforts and some luck have aided this species’ recovery.

On Montserrat Island in the Caribbean, habitat loss has put strain on the Oriole. Despite decline in its population, the species was considered to be Lower Risk/Near Threatened in 1994. This changed after the 1995 volcanic eruptions. In following years volcanic eruptions, ash, and low rainfall drastically reduced the survival rate of the native bird. The Montserrat Oriole became Critically Endangered.

island conservation montserrat oriole

Montserrat Oriole. Credit: Alistair Homer

Conservationists stepped in to rescue the species by transferring some individuals to captivity. The remaining Orioles were faced with invasive pigs and rats, and ongoing volcanic activity on the island. This led to a continuous decline in the population, but enhanced conservation efforts offered hope. In recent years, the protection of the critical habitat and efforts to remove feral pigs have benefited native species. While conservation efforts are certainly to thank for the recovery of the Montserrat Oriole, a stroke of luck has helped too: volcanic activity on Montserrat has decreased.

Conservation intervention has stabilized the population, which now consists of over 500 adults. Although this is a small step towards recovery, it is enough for them to be downlisted. The bird is currently listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Steffen Oppel, senior Conservation Scientist at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said:

The future population size of the Montserrat Oriole will always fluctuate, owing to the strong influence of rainfall on productivity and the vagaries of an active volcano….But, as long as the existing forest can be fully protected, the probability of extinction is fairly low over the next decade.

This conservation achievement comes with a lesson – protect species that live with at risk of unavoidable natural disasters by removing unnatural threats such as invasive species.

Featured photo: Montserrat Oriole perching. Credit: Tim Ellis
Source: BirdLife

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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