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Hawaiian forest bird conservation strategies for minimizing the risk of extinction: biological and biocultural considerations

April 14, 2022

The iconic forest birds of Hawai‘i are facing a conservation crisis. Across the Hawaiian Islands, native forest birds have been experiencing population declines that have accelerated in the last one to two decades. While habitat loss, invasive species, and non-native predators have negatively affected forest bird species for hundreds of years, and continue to do so, introduced diseases, particularly avian malaria, are the greatest threat to forest birds today. Further, climate change has increased temperatures in the high-elevation forests, facilitating the spread of disease into areas that were once largely disease-free. Rapid population declines have now (2022) pushed four Hawaiian honeycreeper species to the brink of extinction: the endangered ‘akikiki (Oreomystis bairdi) and ‘akeke‘e (Loxops caeruleirostris) on Kaua‘i Island, and kiwikiu (Pseudonestor xanthophrys) and ‘ākohekohe (Palmeria dolei) on Maui Island. The biologists that study these birds strongly agree that without a rapid conservation response to the threat of increasing disease mortality there is a high probability these species will go extinct in the coming decade. To help evaluate alternative conservation strategies for minimizing the risk of extinction, we convened diverse groups of experts with broad experience in Hawai‘i forest birds and ecosystems, as well as the management approaches being considered, to assess the probability of success of alternative management actions. In addition to assessing this crisis from a biological perspective, we convened a group of Native Hawaiian participants that have a strong connection to the forest birds, forests, and the integration of their culture in natural and biocultural resource management. They give voice to the significance of forest birds to Native Hawaiians and provide their perspectives on alternative management actions. Broadly, the three alternative management actions being considered to prevent the extinction of forest birds from the increasing threat of disease are (1) landscape-level mosquito control through the Wolbachia incompatible insect technique, (2) captive care, and (3) conservation translocations. The two key components of the problem of preventing extinction in these four bird species is time and risk. For each species, very few individuals remain, and they are all in danger of imminent extinction. Each management action takes time to implement, which might exceed the actual time to extinction. Additionally, each of these conservation actions has potential benefits and inherent risks, as well as substantial uncertainty in terms of being successful. Native Hawaiian perspectives and considerations also vary across the conservation actions. The expert evaluations summarized in this report provide a broad assessment of conservation strategies that could be undertaken to prevent the extinction of ‘akikiki, ‘akeke‘e, kiwikiu, and ‘ākohekohe. While this report does not recommend specific actions, the information is intended to support decision-makers as they assess which, if any, conservation strategies to pursue.

Publication Year 2022
Title Hawaiian forest bird conservation strategies for minimizing the risk of extinction: biological and biocultural considerations
Authors Eben H. Paxton, Megan Laut, Stanton Enomoto, Michelle Bogardus
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype State or Local Government Series
Series Title Hawaii Cooperative Studies Unit Technical Report
Series Number 103
Index ID 70230509
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center