Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Climate Change Threatens Endangered Honeycreeper Birds of Hawaii

Date:
May 27, 2009
Source:
United States Geological Survey
Summary:
As climate change causes temperatures to increase in Hawaii's mountains, deadly non-native bird diseases will likely also creep up the mountains, invading most of the last disease-free refuges for honeycreepers -- a group of endangered and remarkable birds.

Iiwi Honeycreeper. Iiwi are extremely susceptible to avian malaria. Mortality is as high as 90% after exposure to a single infective mosquito bite under laboratory conditions.
Credit: Carter Atkinson, U.S. Geological Survey

As climate change causes temperatures to increase in Hawaii’s mountains, deadly non-native bird diseases will likely also creep up the mountains, invading most of the last disease-free refuges for honeycreepers – a group of endangered and remarkable birds.

Related Articles


A just-published U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) review discusses the likelihood of a forthcoming “disease invasion” by examining the present altitudinal range of avian malaria and pox, honeycreeper distribution, and the future projected range of diseases and honeycreeper habitat with climate change.

At one time, the Hawaiian Islands had no mosquitoes – and no mosquito-borne diseases. But, by the late 1800s, mosquitoes had set up permanent housekeeping, setting the stage for epidemic transmission of avian malaria and pox. Honeycreepers – just like people faced with novel viruses such as swine flu – had no natural resistance against these diseases.

Before long, Hawaii’s native honeycreepers significantly declined in numbers and geographic range. It was likely that malaria swept rapidly across all of the lower Hawaiian Islands after the disease was introduced, leaving few survivors. Today, native Hawaiian birds face one of the highest rates of extinction in the world. Of 41 honeycreeper species and subspecies known since historic times, 17 are probably extinct, 14 are endangered, and only 3 are in decent shape.

Pox and malaria transmission in Hawaii depends on climatic conditions, especially seasonal changes in temperature and rainfall that increase or decrease mosquito populations. “Without question, the one factor that prevented widespread and rapid extinction of virtually all of Hawaii’s native honeycreepers after the introduction of avian pox and avian malaria was the presence of high-altitude disease refuges on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii,” said lead study author Dr. Carter Atkinson, a USGS microbiologist based at the USGS Pacific Islands Ecosystems Research Center in Hawaii.

These cool, high-elevation – above 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) -- mountains not only provided habitats that mosquitoes didn’t thrive in, but they also had habitat that honeycreepers liked, wrote the authors. While birds in those areas find refuge from the diseases – dispersing juvenile birds and adults that follow seasonal flowering of native plants to lower elevations are exposed to disease.

“Unfortunately,” said study co-author, USGS scientist Dr. Dennis LaPointe, “this seasonal movement happens at the same time that mosquito populations soar at mid-elevations, which fuels high disease-transmission rates there. There’s a continuous source of disease-susceptible birds each fall.”

Although most disease transmission now occurs in these mid-elevation forests, this will change if the projected 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Centigrade) raise in temperature occurs.

“With this kind of temperature change, about 60 to 96 percent of the high-elevation disease refuges would disappear,” said Atkinson. For example, available high-elevation forest habitat in the low-risk disease zone would likely decline by nearly 60 percent at Hanawi Natural Area Reserve on Maui to as much as 96 percent at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on Hawaii Island. On other islands, such as Kauai, with lower elevations and no low-risk zones even now, predicted temperature changes would likely be catastrophic for remaining honeycreeper species.

“Right now, disease transmission in the mountains of Kaui is highly seasonal, but with temperature increases, disease would be able to be transmitted throughout most of the year,” said Atkinson.

In addition, the tropical inversion layer – often visible as a thin cloud layer around high peaks -- may play a more significant role than temperature in determining tree line and the upper extent of forest bird habitat, the authors wrote. The inversion layer forms as cool, dry air meets warm, moist air, creating an inversion layer that caps moisture and cloud development between 5,900 and 7,900 feet (1,800 and 2,400 meters). Over the past 24 years, the height of this layer has remained fairly stable in spite of warming trends but has increased in how often it occurs.

“This could have a tremendous adverse effect on the continued existence of high-elevation disease refugia,” said Atkinson. “Remaining bird populations could be squeezed between expanding disease transmission from lower elevations and the upper limits of suitable forest habitat. Such changes would likely push remaining populations of threatened and endangered honeycreepers to extinction, and cause severe declines in other honeycreepers not now endangered but susceptible to avian malaria.”

Given the likelihood of global warming, the authors suggested that management of mid-elevation habitats to reduce disease transmission will become increasingly vital. The best opportunities for doing this, they wrote, will be through reducing habitat for mosquito larvae, habitat that is often created by introduced feral pigs, goats and cattle in forests.

“The survival of these species into the next century may ultimately depend on our ability to remove or offset introduced threats and restore native forests from sea level to tree line,” Atkinson said.

Honeycreepers rival Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos Islands in terms of their bill types and number of species that descended from a common founder. The birds specialize on food that includes nectar, fruits and insects. Before people came to the islands, as many as 56 kinds of honeycreepers probably occurred.

Avian malaria is caused by a protozoan parasite, and avian pox is a viral infection that typically causes tumor-like swellings on exposed skin of the feet, legs, beak and eyelids of infected birds. Malaria often results in appetite and weight loss, anemia, and massive enlargement of birds’ liver and spleen.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by United States Geological Survey. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Atkinson et al. Introduced Avian Diseases, Climate Change, and the Future of Hawaiian Honeycreepers. Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, 2009; 23 (1): 53 DOI: 10.1647/2008-059.1

Cite This Page:

United States Geological Survey. "Climate Change Threatens Endangered Honeycreeper Birds of Hawaii." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 May 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090526140840.htm>.
United States Geological Survey. (2009, May 27). Climate Change Threatens Endangered Honeycreeper Birds of Hawaii. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090526140840.htm
United States Geological Survey. "Climate Change Threatens Endangered Honeycreeper Birds of Hawaii." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090526140840.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Monarch Butterflies Descend Upon Mexican Forest During Annual Migration

Monarch Butterflies Descend Upon Mexican Forest During Annual Migration

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 19, 2014) Millions of monarch butterflies begin to descend onto Mexico as part of their annual migration south. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Protein-Filled Foods to Energize You for the New Year

The Best Protein-Filled Foods to Energize You for the New Year

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) The new year is coming and nothing will energize you more for 2015 than protein-filled foods. Fitness and nutrition expert John Basedow (@JohnBasedow) gives his favorite high protein foods that will help you build muscle, lose fat and have endless energy. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Newsy (Dec. 19, 2014) A new study suggests a certain type of bird was able to sense a tornado outbreak that moved through the U.S. a day before it hit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins