Author: Steadman, David W.; Martin, Paul S.
Title: The late Quaternary extinction and future resurrection of birds on Pacific islands
Journal: Earth-Science Reviews
Keywords: Quaternary; Paleontology; Pacific islands; Birds; Extinction; Restoration
Abstract: People have lived on Tropical Pacific islands over the past 30,000 years (Bismarcks, Solomons) or 3000 to 1000 years (the rest of Oceania). Theirs activities have led to the loss of many thousands of populations and as many as 2000 species of birds that probably otherwise would exist today. This extinction event is documented by avian fossils from archeological (cultural) and paleontological (noncultural) sites from nearly 70 islands in 19 island groups. Extinction of birds in Oceania rivals the late Pleistocene loss of large mammals in North America as the best substanciated rapid extinction episode in the vertebrate fossil record. Some avian extinctions in Oceania occured within a century or less after human arrival, while others required millenia or even tens of millenia. Any of these time frames is rapid in an evolutionary or geochronological sense. Inter-island differences in the speed and extent of extinction can be explained by variation in abiotic (A), biotic (B), and cultural factors. Levels of extinxtion on large, near islands can be comparable those on small, remote islands when C factors (such as high human population density and introduction of invasive plants and animals) override A factors (such as large land area or little isolation) or B factors (such as rich indigenous floras and faunas). An innovative, proactive conservation strategy is needed not only to prevent further extinctions of birds in Oceania, but also to restart evolution of some of the lineages that have suffered the most loss, such as flightless rails. This strategy should focus on islands with ABC traits that retard rather than enhance extinction.