Pacific bird conservation
Birds are valued for many reasons. They have inspired people with their
beauty, song and behavior; they symbolize freedom, wisdom and spirituality.
They are also important for the goods and services they provide in
their habitats, including seed dispersal, pollination, controlling
pests and maintaining food chains. These services are rarely quantified,
but are very important. Economically, birds contribute to many local
and national economies through tourism from bird watching. Birds
also play an important part in traditional cultures and because they
are so popular they are valuable environmental indicators of environmental
problems through the fluctuations in their populations.
Globally, 12 percent
of the world’s 9800 bird species are declining
and may face extinction within the next centaury. Even birds that are
numerous and widespread may be threatened due to rapidly declining
populations. Contributing to the vulnerability of bird populations
are birds that have small populations and birds that live in restricted
range, smaller than 20 000 km². This situation is common in the
Pacific. Around the world, islands show a greater number of threatened
birds per km² than any other area. Over 95% of the world’s
recent bird extinctions have occurred on islands and around 30% of
Pacific birds are currently threatened with extinction.
The largest threat to birds globally is habitat destruction. Birds are at risk of extinction from severe fragmentation of their habitat and isolation to a few locations. Expanding human populations most commonly causes habitat loss, which includes agricultural expansion and natural resource extraction. In the Pacific little attention is paid to environmental risk assessment studies and subsequently human populations are still encroaching on residual old-growth forest, with serious implications for bird life and other native biodiversity.
The impact of invasive species is the biggest threat to bird populations in the Pacific. Many islands in the Pacific that harbour significant populations of native bird species have been entirely or relatively free from invasive species. Hence, they are particularly vulnerable to new invasions, especially from mammalian predators like rats and cats. The threats these invasive species present could be reduced with quarantine procedures to prevent new invasions from other countries, or other islands within a country.
Other problems the Pacific faces with declining bird populations is
unsustainable hunting of particular species for food; the need for
much higher levels of public awareness and education; the need for
regulations and laws which are enforced to protect birds and their
habitats; the need to protect and restore whole island communities
represented by Important and Endemic Bird Areas; clarification of the
taxonomic and conservation status of many birds and a shortage of experts
trained in standard methodologies who are permanent residents in the
To recover threatened bird species and to conserve all other indigenous bird species and their habitats there are eight areas that need to be targeted:
Priority Setting – Identify species, subspecies and isolated
subpopulations that are under threat, or potentially so. Also identify
those threatening processes.
This essay was written by Suzy Randall, Bird Conservation and Invasive
Species technical assistant, SPREP
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