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Native forest birds in the Hawaiian Islands are limited by introduced avian diseases

Apapane and mosquito © Jack Jeffrey

More than half of the endemic bird taxa on the Hawaiian Islands have been driven extinct. For forest birds, the accidental introduction of mosquitoes bringing diseases has had devastating consequences, limiting their abundance and distribution and playing a part in local extinctions.

Mosquito and native bird abundance in relation to altitude on Mauna Loa Volcano, Hawaii

van Riper et al. (2002)

The Hawaiian islands once supported over 100 endemic bird taxa, but more than half of these have been driven extinct by habitat loss, introduced predators and disease (Olson and James 1982, La Pointe 2000). For forest-dwelling native birds, the accidental introduction of mosquitoes Culex quinqufasciatus, bringing with them avian malaria Plasmodium relictum and avian pox Poxvirus avium, has had devastating consequences (Olson and James 1982, Brooks 2000, La Pointe 2000, van Riper and Scott 2001, Jarvi et al. 2001). For example, the prevalence of pox in ‘Elepaio Chasiempis sandwichensis is inversely related to the population density of this and other native bird species, suggesting that pox could be limiting their abundance and distribution, and hence playing a part in local extinctions (VanderWerf 2001). The mosquito is most common below 600 m (Warner 1968). The highest incidence of malaria and pox thus occurs in wet, mid-elevation forests where mosquitoes overlap with highly susceptible native birds (van Riper et al. 2002, see figure).

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Brooks, T. (2000) Pp. 701–708 in BirdLife International Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
Jarvi, S. I., Atkinson, C. T. and Fleischer, R. C. (2001) Immunogenetics and resistance to avian malaria in Hawaiian Honeycreepers (Drepani- dinae).Stud. Avian Biol. 22: 254–263. 
Olson, S. L. and James, H. F. (1982) Fossil birds from the Hawaiian Islands: Evidence for whole- sale extinction by man before Western contact. Science 217: 633–635.  
La Pointe, D. (2000) Avian malaria in Hawaii: the distribution, ecology and vector potential of forest-dwelling mosquitoes. University of Hawaii, Manoa (Ph.D. dissertation).  
van Riper, C. and Scott, J. M. (2001). Limiting factors affecting Hawaiian native birds. Stud. Avian Biol. 22: 221–233.
van Riper, C., van Riper, S. G. and Hansen, W. R. (2002) Epizootiology and effect of avian pox on Hawaiian forest birds. Auk 119: 929–942.
VanderWerf, E. (2001) Distribution and potential impacts of avian pox-like lesions in 'Elepaio at Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge. Stud. Avian Biol. 22: 247–253.
Warner, R. E. (1968) The role of introduced diseases in the extinction of the endemic Hawaiian avifauna. Condor 70: 101–120. 

Compiled 2004

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife International (2004) Native forest birds in the Hawaiian Islands are limited by introduced avian diseases . Presented as part of the BirdLife State of the world's birds website. Available from: Checked: 26/10/2016