Hawaiian Forest Birds Collapse, Climate Change To Blame?

First Posted: Sep 08, 2016 08:55 AM EDT

Hawaii's native forest birds, which are iconic to the island of Kauai, are now dying off and, like many other species on earth, are facing the brink of extinction as climate change has heated up their habitat by several degrees.

The collapse of their population was caused by the fact that the warmer weather has brought about mosquito-borne diseases, according to a recent study. Higher temperatures, according to, increase the spread of diseases such as avian malaria in wooded areas, especially now that the forests are no longer cool enough to keep them under control.

The findings serve as a warning for forest birds on other islands, as well as other species that rely on the forests as their habitat - most of Hawaii's forest birds were restricted to forests in high elevations, where the disease used to be seasonal or even absent. However, a sharp increase of the disease occurred over a 15-year-period in the forests of Kauai's Alakai Plateau. "If native species linearly decline at a rate similar to or greater than that of the past decade, then multiple extinctions are likely in the next decade," the study published in Science Advances warned.

Today, two Hawaiian honeycreeper species are already endangered. A petition is asking for a third to be included in the list as well. However, despite the fact that global warming is considered the "prime suspect" for the decline of the bird population, there are also other factors - like the existence of non-native plants and animals making their way on the island and contributing to the problem. However, the scientists believe that climate change remains as the "tipping point" for the sensitive birds.

Co-author Lisa Crampton noted that bird feathers adorned the regalia of Hawaiian chiefs, which means that these birds are culturally significant as well. She added, however, that "Even though the situation is dire, it's not too late. It's not hopeless."

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