Islands are fascinating areas for studying wildlife. Ever since the voyage of the HMS Beagle,its visits to the Galapagos islands, and Darwin’s initial conjecture about the stability and origin of species, islands have been real-world laboratories for the study of evolution Island biogeography became a field of study in the 1960s, with a key premise that isolation of species leads to unique evolutionary paths. As a result, in isolated island environments, you often find unique species found nowhere else.
The Hawaiian Islands certainly have more than their fair share of unique wildlife, particularly bird species. More than 50 honeycreeper species were once found throughout Hawaii, with some unique to specific islands. Today, only 18 species survive. You can definitely blame humanity for the loss of all these unique island bird species. When humans spread, they inevitably also bring uninvited guests. Mosquitoes were unknown in the Hawaiian Islands, until the early 1800s. With the introduction of mosquitoes came mosquito-carried diseases that native wildlife in Hawaii had never had to deal with. Rats, cats, feral pigs, and goats have all also had devastating consequences for native wildlife in the Hawaiian Islands, as have many introduced bird species that compete with native birds.
Despite what the arrival of human travelers unleashed in the Hawaiian Islands, some of the unique bird species survived. Until now. On top of all the “local” effects that come with the arrival of humans comes the cumulative impacts that affect all parts of the globe. Some of the unique bird species in the Hawaiian Islands were able to survive is colder pockets at higher elevations, where temperatures were too cold for mosquitoes to thrive. Climate change is having a very measurable impact on the Hawaiian Islands, however, and as a result, the elevation at which mosquitoes are found has been steady moving upward. As a result, the isolated pockets of mosquito-free honeycreeper populations are now being infiltrated with mosquitoes for he first time.
A new study out in the past week suggests that many of these honeycreeper species could be extinct in as little as 10-years, thanks to the combined impacts of climate change, mosquitoes, and other human-driven factors.
It still boggles my mind that there are people that don’t believe that climate change exists, but as this and countless other real-world impacts show, it not only exists, but is having a devastating impact on ecosystems around the world.