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Mass extinction in the Pacific due to humans

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 17:22

Wellington: The arrival of human beings in the Pacific including New Zealand led to a rapid mass extinction of about 10 percent of the world`s bird species, a new study has revealed.
In New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii most of the 1300 bird species wiped out were eaten by the people or were destroyed when the new arrivals burnt out forests, reported.

The region was the last part of the Earth colonised by human beings, about 4000 years ago.

Research by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) showed that the arrival of the first people caused irreversible damage to these natural havens, due to overhunting and deforestation .

ZSL said the scale of the extinctions, which includes the New Zealand moa, has been hard to quantify because of uncertainties in the fossil record.

ZSL`s Institute of Zoology director, Professor Tim Blackburn, said they found that 160 species of non-passerine (non-perching) land birds disappeared without a trace after the first humans arrived on these islands alone.

"We studied fossils from 41 tropical Pacific islands and using new techniques we were able to gauge how many extra species of bird disappeared without leaving any trace," he said in a ZSL statement.

"If we take into account all the other islands in the tropical Pacific, as well as seabirds and songbirds, the total extinction toll is likely to have been around 1300 bird species," Blackburn said.

Species lost include several species of moa-nalos, large flightless waterfowl from Hawaii, and the New Caledonian Sylviornis, a relative of the game birds but which weighed in at about 30 kilograms, three times as heavy as a swan.

Small, dry islands lost more species because they were more easily deforested and had fewer places for birds to hide from hunters.

Flightless birds were more than 30 times more likely to become extinct than those that could fly.

Forty more species disappeared after Europeans arrived, and many more species are still threatened with extinction today.

Science Magazine reported some species also lost their habitats when humans burned away swathes of trees to make way for agriculture.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


First Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 - 17:22
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