Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Habitat of Rare Hawaiian Forest Birds Expanding

Three species of Hawaii’s rarest forest birds have been found at the lowest elevations in three decades, giving researchers hope for their continued survival.

The rediscovery of the three species occurred at the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, which is located on the northeast slopes of  Mauna Kea, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Geological Survey said today.

The three species, the Hawaii creeper, Hawaii ‘akepa and ‘akiapola‘au, are believed to be highly susceptible to mosquito-transmitted diseases, including avian malaria.

It was thought the birds’ distribution was limited to cooler, higher elevations that are less favorable to mosquitoes.

Staff at the Hakalau refuge, which is controlled by the USFWS, heard the songs of the creeper and ‘akepa at the 4,200-foot elevation, within a mile of where they were last observed during a 1977 forest bird survey.

More importantly, scientists said, ‘akiapola‘au were heard and observed 1,000 feet lower in elevation from previous sightings in the 1970s.

They said these new observations significantly extend the current known range of these species at Hakalau.

“Hawaii’s native birds face multiple threats from habitat destruction, invasive species, introduced diseases, and climate change, with many already having been driven to extinction,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt.

“The observation of three endangered species possibly expanding their range in a wildlife refuge gives us hope that with some care, the road to extinction need not be a one-way street,” she said.

Extensive forest bird surveys showed the area containing the refuge to be among the best-high-elevation rainforest habitats remaining in Hawaii, which led to the establishment of the Hakalau refuge in 1985. It is the only national wildlife refuge dedicated to the conservation and restoration of Hawaiian forest birds.

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