Early Settlers Drove Extinction of Nearly 1000 Bird Species

By Breanna Draxler | March 28, 2013 1:02 pm

Moa (Dinornis robustus). Image courtesy of tnchanse/Flickr

What was the largest extinction event of the last 12,000 years? Believe it or not, it’s birds. Scientists now say almost a thousand species of birds—many of them the big, flightless variety—disappeared from the Pacific Islands during the Holocene, killed by early settlers before the Europeans ever arrived. And because many of these species could only be found on these islands, the loss of their endemic populations meant global extinction.

Scientists pieced together the fossil record from the Late Quaternary period on 41 Pacific islands. After extrapolating to fill in the gaps, the researchers determined that at least 983 species of nonpasserine, or non-perching, birds went extinct, according to their results published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. The total is expected to be much higher if seabirds or songbirds were included, but they left far fewer fossils.

Remote islands in the Pacific Ocean, like Samoa, Fiji and Hawaii, were the last places on the Earth to be colonized by people. Human populations didn’t start arriving until 3,500 years ago. For some islands it was even a few thousand years after that. But when people did finally arrive, landbirds felt their presence almost immediately.

Hunters sought big, meaty birds like the Moa (skeleton pictured at right), and succeeded in killing many of them due to the fact that many of these birds couldn’t fly away. Likewise, clearing of the forest led to a devastating loss of habitat for the birds. In the few hundred or thousand years (depending on the island) between initial colonization and the arrival of Europeans, two thirds of native nonpasserine bird populations were eliminated.

This is the first time the extent of this destruction has been quantified. Score: humans, 1, nonpasserine birds, 0.

 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts
  • JonFrum

    Early settlers? If you’re going to contrast them to Europeans, you might want to give them their appropriate names – Melanesians, Polynesians, and Micronesians.

  • Isaac

    It appears that the main being said by the author is “We didn’t do it.”

    • JonFrum

      Who is this ‘we?’

      • Isaac

        Sorry to have NOT clarified. “We” = Europeans.

  • markybel

    Nonsense, as progressives have taught us, destruction only arrived with Europeans; the islands and the firm ground of the ocean seas were populated by noble indigenous people who wouldn’t harm a fly and lived in harmony with nature. It was Europeans who upset the apple cart and brought death, disease, genocide, extinction, destruction, rape and pillage of the environment.

    I always got an A+ when I gave that answer on exams.

    • Bobareeno

      Europe should be cleansed of all life before it is too late….or at least none of the inhabitants should allowed to leave the area. Or maybe it should be stocked with Pacific Islanders.

  • linda518

    Cole. I see what you mean… Jeffrey`s posting is inconceivable, last monday I bought Renault 5 when I got my check for $8535 this-last/month and a little over ten/k lass month. it’s actualy my favourite-work I’ve ever done. I actually started six months/ago and immediately started to bring in at least $86 per/hr. I use this web-site, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

D-brief

Briefing you on the must-know news and trending topics in science and technology today.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »