Author: Thibault, Jean-Claude; Martin, Jean-Louis; Penloup, Aura; Meyer, Jean-Yves
Title: Understanding the decline and extinction of monarchs (Aves) in Polynesian islands
Journal: Biological Conservation
Keywords: Monarch; Pomarea; Rat; Rattus; Polynesia; Extinction; Conservation
Abstract: Understanding the decline and extinction of species has become critical to conservation biology. The five monarch species of the genus Pomarea, endemic to the southeastern Pacific, are all listed as threatened. Introduced mammals and birds are believed to be responsible for their rarefaction. We analyzed the historical and current distribution of monarchs and introduced animals and found no relation between presence of Polynesian rats (Rattus exulans) and monarch distribution. There was a highly significant correlation between the arrival of the black rat (Rattus rattus) and the decline and extinction of monarch populations. The extinction of monarch populations after colonization by black rats tended to take longer on larger islands than on smaller ones. On islands without black rats, monarchs persisted even where forests have been reduced by more than 75%. After an island was colonized by black rats the number of monarch pairs with young decreased dramatically. Eggs in artificial nests placed in sites used by monarchs were only preyed upon by black rats. No eggs were preyed upon by Polynesian rats (Rattus exulans) or introduced birds. Monarch nests were mainly placed on horizontal branches inside the canopy and were more accessible than nests of Polynesian warbler (Acrocephalus caffer), a species still locally abundant. Warbler nests were placed higher up on vertical branches near the top of trees. These studies suggest that nest predation by black rats has been the main cause of monarch decline. However observations of direct aggression of adult monarchs by introduced red-vented bulbuls (Pycnonotus cafer), especially when monarchs raise their young, suggest that introduced birds could aggravate the decline of monarch populations already weakened by black rats. We discuss the practical implications of these findings for monarch conservation.