Royal Society Publishing

Bird Extinctions in the Central Pacific [and Discussion]

Stuart L. Pimm, Michael P. Moulton, Lenora J. Justice, N. J. Collar, D. M. J. S. Bowman, W. J. Bond


The first wave of human colonists spread across the Pacific from 4000 to 1000 years ago. That they caused many extinctions is well known from fossil finds. We estimate how many fossil species were missed - the answer is roughly half - and so estimate the true extinction rate. The first colonists exterminated roughly half the species on each island group. Some of these extinctions are falsely attributed to the first colonists, because intensive collection often began a half century after the damage initiated by European discovery. Even taken at face value, these recent extinctions are too few. Many species are so critically endangered that we know neither whether they still survive or how to save them. Interestingly, there are fewer recent extinctions and currently endangered species in the islands of the western Pacific, which were the islands occupied first by humans. We suggest that the species sensitive to human occupation died out long ago in these areas. If so, these islands would have lost even more than half of their bird species.

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