What’s Killing Native Birds in The Mountain Forests of Kauai?

What’s Killing Native Birds in The Mountain Forests of Kauai?

Biologist Eben Paxton is sounding the alarm about the catastrophic collapse of native bird populations on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. His group’s research has uncovered the culprit: disease-carrying mosquitoes that have invaded the birds’ mountain habitat.

by diane toomey

The few remaining species of native forest birds left on the Hawaiian island of Kauai have suffered population declines so severe – 98 percent in one case – that some are near extinction. The cause of the collapse, according to a recent study in the journal Science Advances, is not alien plants or predators, but rather warming temperatures that have enabled non-native mosquitoes carrying deadly avian malaria to invade the birds’ high-elevation strongholds.

Eben Paxton

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Eben Paxtonan avian ecologist with U.S. Geological Survey and lead author of the study, says his group’s research showed that the mosquitoes moved into the Alakai Plateau over the last decade, infecting the birds and pushing their populations to a tipping point. “We’re at the 11th hour,” he says.

Paxton cites a number of approaches for eradicating the mosquitoes, including releasing irradiated infertile males, altering the bacteria naturally found in these insects, and even using genetically modified mosquitoes. As he sees it, more than the birds of Kauai are at stake. “The way that we view Kauai is that it’s an early warning system for the rest of the islands,” he says. “If we get it right on Kauai then, I feel pretty good about the prospects of some of the other islands.” Read more.