Main content area

Extinction patterns in the avifauna of the Hawaiian islands

Boyer, Alison G.
Diversity & distributions 2008 v.14 no.3 pp. 509-517
anthropogenic activities, birds, body size, dry forests, extinct species, extinction, fossils, freshwater, frugivores, habitats, insectivores, models, nectar feeding, phylogeny, probability, seed predation, Hawaii
Through the continuing accumulation of fossil evidence, it is clear that the avifauna of the Hawaiian Islands underwent a large-scale extinction event around the time of Polynesian arrival. A second wave of extinctions since European colonization has further altered this unique avifauna. Here I present the first systematic analysis of the factors characterizing the species that went extinct in each time period and those that survived in order to provide a clearer picture of the possible causal mechanisms. These analyses were based on mean body size, dietary and ecological information and phylogenetic lineage of all known indigenous, non-migratory land and freshwater bird species of the five largest Hawaiian Islands. Extinct species were divided into 'prehistoric' and 'historic' extinction categories based on the timing of their last occurrence. A model of fossil preservation bias was also incorporated. I used regression trees to predict probability of prehistoric and historic extinction based on ecological variables. Prehistoric extinctions showed a strong bias toward larger body sizes and flightless, ground-nesting species, even after accounting for preservation bias. Many small, specialized species, mostly granivores and frugivores, also disappeared, implicating a wide suite of human impacts including destruction of dry forest habitat. In contrast, the highest extinction rates in the historic period were in medium-sized nectarivorous and insectivorous species. These differences result from different causal mechanisms underlying the two waves of extinction.