Birds of Indian Subcontinent

Reflections on a 1975 Expedition to the Lost World of the Alaka'i and Other Notes on the Natural History, Systematics, and Conservation of Kaua'i Birds

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:1998
Authors:CONANT, SHEILA, H. Pratt, D, Shallenberger, RJ
Journal:The Wilson Bulletin
Date Published:1998
ISBN Number:00435643
Keywords:Chasiempis, Chasiempis sandwichensis, Chasiempsis, Chasiempsis sandwichensis, Chlorodrepanis, Chlorodrepanis kauaiensis, Chlorodrepanis stejnegeri, Fringillidae, Hemignathus, Hemignathus kauaiensis, Hemignathus parvus, Loxops, Loxops parvus, Loxops stejnegeri, Magumma, Magumma parva, Magumma parvus, Moho, Moho braccatus, Mohoidae, Myadestes, Myadestes myadestinus, Myadestes palmeri, Oreomystis, Oreomystis bairdi, Phaeornis, Phaeornis myadestinus, Phaeornis palmeri, Psittirostra, Psittirostra psittacea, systematics, Turdidae, Viridonia, Viridonia kauaensis, Viridonia parva, Viridonia parvus, Viridonia stejnegeri, World
Abstract:We observed, tape recorded, and photographed birds of the Alaka'i Plateau on Kaua'i, Hawai'i for one week during the summer of 1975. We observed all but one of the island's historically known species and compared the Alaka'i Plateau with the more accessible Koke'e area. Ours were the last studies before catastrophic changes in the Kaua'i avifauna and included many observations that cannot now be repeated. This retrospective report presents our findings in the light of subsequent events. Because our Alaka'i studies were seminal in the development of the current AOU classification of Hawaiian native passerines, we defend that classification against recent challenges and further refine it. The controversial genus Hemignathus is shown to be supported by a suite of synapomorphies of plumage, bill morphology, and vocalizations. We advocate removal of the 'Anianiau from Hemignathus and classify it as Magumma parva. Our studies of foraging behavior and vocalizations support the recent recognition of the Kaua'i 'Amakihi (H. kauaiensis) as a separate species and suggest that the 'Elepaio (Chasiempis) is best split into three species (sclateri, ibidis, and sandwichensis). Major hurricanes in 1983 and 1992 appear to have severely impacted Alaka'i bird populations with the subsequent extinction of the Kaua'i 'O'o (Moho braccatus) and possibly the Kama'o (Myadestes myadestinus), and the island population of 'O'u (Psittirostra psittacea). We report some of the last natural history observations on these species. Formerly adaptive strategies for storm survival, including taking refuge in valleys, are no longer effective because the lowlands are now infested with mosquito-borne avian diseases. The Puaiohi (M. palmeri), a ravine specialist, suffered less from the storms although its population remains perilously low. Other forest birds, especially the 'Akikiki (Oreomystis bairdi), show noticeable declines since 1975. We speculate that introduced organisms such as alien plants can have a deleterious effect on ecosystems by altering feeding methods of birds even in areas where the weeds do not occur. We caution against the overly conservative use of species-level taxa for setting conservation priorities on remote islands.
Short Title:The Wilson Bulletin
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