World Bird News March 2009

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Darwin’s finches: Part Two

Darwin’s finches: Part Two

12-03-2009
The discovery of a new bird to science in a distant archipelago is providing evidence of how, in the absence of competitors, unique species can evolve rapidly to fill empty niches. But the archipelago is not the Galapagos, and the bird is not one of Darwin’s finches.
In the year of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, a paper in the leading scientific journal, Ibis, describing a new bird species in the Solomon Islands, has reinforced evidence that white-eyes evolve new species faster than any other known bird family –including Galapagos finches.
The new species has been named Vanikoro White-eye Zosterops gibbsi. The formal description was published in Ibis by Dr Guy Dutson of Birds Australia (BirdLife in Australia), who led a recent expedition to the island of Vanikoro to gather evidence about the bird. Its scientific name gibbsi is in honour of the first person to see the species – David Gibbs.
Vanikoro White-eye differs from other family members by having a distinctively shaped bill; along with different leg and eye-ring colours.
Vanikoro is a small island in the south-west Pacific, in the Solomon Islands archipelago. The rugged volcanic island with steep, forest-covered hills was visited by Jules D’Urville in 1829 – six years prior to The Beagle landing in the Galapagos - who collected specimens of Vanikoro Flycatcher Myiagra vanikorensis and Uniform Swiftlet Collocalia vanikorensis.

“Genetic research has shown that white-eyes evolve new species faster than any known bird family,” said Guy Dutson. “Islands only 3 km apart in the Solomons have their own white-eye species, and the Solomon Islands alone have 13 species of white-eye.
“Like Darwin’s finches, these birds have evolved unique beak structures and feeding behaviours in the absence of competitors”, Dr Dutson added.
White-eyes are small sociable birds of tropical forests. As their common name implies, many have a conspicuous ring of tiny white feathers around their eyes. The Vanikoro White-eye differs from the geographically closest white-eye, the Santa Cruz White-eye Z. sanctaecrucis, by having a longer bill, and different leg and eye-ring colour.
Vanikoro White-eyes are found in forest habitats, mostly above 350 m, and feed on insects and small fruits. “Vanikoro White-eyes were abundant towards the summit of the highest mountain”, noted Dr Dutson, who observed an active nest during his expedition. “Up to three adults fed chicks at a single nest, suggesting cooperative breeding, which has only been documented in two other white-eye species”.
Vanikoro White-eye displays different feeding behaviours to closely-related birds. “This new species forages in a slower, more methodical manner than similar white-eyes, suggesting they have evolved into an empty niche”, commented Dr Dutson.
“Like Galapagos finches, Vanikoro White-eye has evolved perfectly to its surroundings in the absence of competitors”, said Dr Nigel Collar, the Leventis Fellow in Conservation Biology at BirdLife International.
“Perhaps the biggest threat to Vanikoro White-eye is introduced alien species such as rats”, Dr Nigel Collar warned. “Predators introduced by humans now pose a huge threat to native species across the Pacific.”
“Elsewhere in the Solomon Islands, birds are threatened by logging which can extend from the coast high into the hills”, added Dr Dutson.
“So little is known about biodiversity in the Solomon Islands”, said Don Stewart – Director of BirdLife’s Pacific Programme. “Who knows what is still to be found in the Solomon Islands? We need more expeditions like this throughout Melanesia before threats such as illegal logging wipe species out before we can help them”.

Birdlife International: Picture Adam Bowley

Communities protect Fijian forests
10-03-2009
A conservation initiative on the beautiful and remote Natewa Peninsular in Fiji is being used as a demonstration project for community conservation, to train conservationists from other Pacific Island countries.
The project to develop a community managed protected area was initiated in 2005, after the peninsular, on the Northern Fijian Island of Vanua Levu, was identified as the Natewa and Tunaloa Important Bird Area (IBA). This IBA contains untouched old growth forest, and is home to the subspecies kleinschmidti of the endemic Silktail Lamprolia victoriae (Near Threatened), Shy Ground-dove Gallicolumba stairi and Black-faced Shrikebill Clytorhynchus nigrogularis (both Vulnerable), and many other Fijian endemics.
In 2005, a Site Support Group made up of landowning clans was formed, and agreed to protect their forest from degrading activities including commercial logging and agriculture.
Recently, a workshop was held in Navetau Village on the Natewa Peninsular. The meeting was attended by over 30 local people, and during the meeting 11 landowning clans or mataqali agreed to sustainably manage over 6000ha of land for ten years. They also agreed an interim management plan.
“This is a really exciting grassroots initiative”, said Tuverea Tuamoto, Conservation Officer with the Birdlife Fiji Programme. “The landowners are taking the initiative by developing the protected area, and we are working in partnership with government departments to support them.”
The workshop was also a training course for conservationists from other Pacific islands. Participants from Société Calédonienne d'Ornithologie (SCO, BirdLife in New Caledonia), the New Caledonian community conservation initiative Dayu Biik, the Provincial Government of New Caledonia’s South Province (Province Sud), and La Société d'Ornithologie de Polynésie (MANU, BirdLife in French Polynesia) attended lectures and took part in the community workshops.
James Millett, Senior Technical Advisor with the Birdlife International Pacific Partnership, explained: “Working with communities is central to every conservation project in Fiji, and Fijian conservationists are well practiced at traditional protocols, as well as the modern social tools for assessing community needs, such as Participatory Rural Appraisal. However, community conservation needs more support in most Pacific countries and territories.”
He added, “Our partners have been very enthusiastic over this workshop, and have been impressed by the knowledge and skills of young Fijian conservationists, and equally impressed by the commitment of landowners to manage forest sustainably. The best way to appreciate how important it is for communities and traditional landowners to lead conservation projects is to see a Site Support Group at work.”
The workshop was funded by the British Government’s Darwin Initiative, and by the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation, which has been funding the development of conservation groups at several important forest sites in Fiji.
75% of common European birds at risk from climate change

75% of common European birds at risk from climate change

04-03-2009
Climate change is already having a detectable impact on birds across Europe. This is the message from a group of scientists who have created the world’s first indicator of the impacts of climate change on wildlife at a continental scale. “We hear a lot about climate change, but our paper shows that its effects are being felt right now”, said lead author Dr Richard Gregory from the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK).
Of the 122 common species included in the analysis, 75% are predicted to experience declines across their ranges if they continue to respond to climatic warming in the way the models predict, and in the absence of other barriers. The remaining 25% are projected to increase.
“The results show the number of species being badly affected outnumbers the species that might benefit by three to one”, commented Dr Gregory. “Although we have only had a very small actual rise in global average temperature, it is staggering to realise how much change we are noticing in wildlife populations. If we don’t take our foot off the gas now, our indicator shows there will be many much worse effects to come. We must keep global temperature rise below the two degree ceiling; anything above this will create global havoc”.
Published in the journal PloS ONE, scientists showed a strong link between the observed population change of common and widespread European bird species and the projected range change associated with climate change. By pulling all the data together, the team compiled an indicator showing how climate change is affecting wildlife across Europe. The new indicator has already been included in a high profile set of indicators being used by the European Commission to assess progress towards the target of halting biodiversity loss by 2010.
The paper and the indicator were produced by a team of scientists from the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK), Durham University, the University of Cambridge, the European Bird Census Council, the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, the Czech Society for Ornithology (BirdLife in the Czech Republic), and Statistics Netherlands.
The Climate Change Indicator combines two independent strands of work: bioclimate envelope modelling, and observed population trends in European birds, derived from the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme. When a bird’s population changes in line with the projection, the indicator goes up. Species whose observed trend doesn’t fit the projection cause the indicator to go down.
Dr Stephen Willis, of Durham University, said: “Our indicator is the biodiversity equivalent of the FTSE index, only instead of summarising the changing fortunes of businesses, it summarises how biodiversity is changing due to climate change. Unlike the FTSE, which is currently at a six year low, the climate change index has been increasing each year since the mid-1980s, indicating that climate is having an increasing impact on biodiversity".
“Those birds we predict should fare well under climate change have been increasing since the mid-80s, and those we predict should do badly have declined over the same period. The worry is that the declining group actually comprises 75% of the species we studied”.
The research shows that the populations of a number of species are projected to increase across Europe. The top ten increasing species (in order) are Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala; Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans; European Bee-eater Merops apiaster; Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus; Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti; Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops; Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus; European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis; Eurasian Reed-warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus; and Eurasian Collared-dove Streptopelia decaocto.
Of those species projected to decline across Europe, the top ten worst performers (in order) are Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago; Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis; Brambling Fringilla montifringilla; Willow Tit Parus montanus; Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus; Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia; Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix; Spotted Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes; Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe; and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos minor.
Dr Gregory added:"This new work emphasises again the role played by skilled amateur birdwatchers right across Europe in advancing our understanding of the environment and the growing threat posed by climate change”.
“This is the first robust indicator of climate change impacts on biodiversity”, said Dr Stuart Butchart – BirdLife's Global Research and Indicators Coordinator. “There are numerous measures of how our climate is changing, and good evidence that these changes are impacting species and habitats, but to date there has been no simple indicator graph for decision makers to use to monitor these impacts over time. It provides another example of how information from birds – the best known class of organisms – can be used to monitor our growing footprint on the planet”.
Climate change threatens to undermine BirdLife’s global mission to conserve wild birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, by working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. Climate change clearly poses new challenges to BirdLife’s main approaches to conserving species, Important Bird Areas and habitats.
BirdLife has drawn together scientific information, policy analysis and practical experience that provides a comprehensive rationale for taking action on climate change.
The BirdLife Partnership is now developing a programme of work to combat climate change. The position is, of necessity, complex and detailed. But its overall message is very simple: climate change is global in its causes and consequences and potentially disastrous for life on earth; we must act together and act now to mitigate against it and adapt to it.

Image Northern Lapwing Jodie Randall RSPB Images

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