Special Seminar Series: The Ecology of Monterey Bay

Seabirds and islands:
Ecology and conservation opportunities

Donald Croll

Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

University of California, Santa Cruz

Colony of nesting black-browed albatross, rockhopper penguins, and imperial shags set high above the ocean on tussock grass-covered seacliffs.

Thursday, September 7, 2017
Pacific Forum—3:00 p.m.

Islands comprise only 5.3 percent of Earth’s land area yet maintain 19 percent of bird species, 17 percent of rodents, and 17 percent of flowering plants. Species diversity is disproportionately threatened on islands in relation to the islands’ proportion of both global land area and species, with 61 percent of all recorded extinctions in the past 500 years and 37 percent of all critically endangered species confined to islands. Birds on islands are particularly threatened, accounting for 95 percent of documented avian extinctions in the past 500 years, and 59 percent of birds currently listed as critically endangered.  Because most seabirds breed on islands where they are exposed to land-based threats along with sea-based threats, they are the most threatened group of marine animals with 29 percent of species at some risk of extinction.

To guide island-based seabird conservation actions, we identified all islands with extant or extirpated populations of the 98 globally threatened seabird species, as recognized on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, and quantified the presence of threatening invasive species, protected areas, and human populations. We matched these results with island attributes to highlight feasible island conservation opportunities. We identified 1,362 threatened breeding seabird populations on 968 islands. On 803 (83 percent) of these islands, we identified threatening invasive species (20 percent), incomplete protected area coverage (23 percent), or both (40 percent). Most islands with threatened seabirds are amenable to island-wide conservation action because they are small (57 percent were less than one square kilometer), uninhabited (74 percent), and occur in high- or middle-income countries (96 percent). Collectively these attributes make islands with threatened seabirds a rare opportunity for effective conservation at scale.

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