avian malaria

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The population of Hawaiian honeycreepers has declined by over 95% in the past 15 years, and 20 of the species have likely gone extinct, meaning that fewer than half of these unique species still exist.  Much of this is due to habitat loss, predation by imported predators such as rats and cats, and competition by non-native birds.  But in recent years, a new threat has arisen in avian malaria, which the honeycreepers have no immunity to.  Previously, temperatures in the alpine habitats of many honeycreepers were too low for malaria-carrying mosquitoes to survive.  However, thanks to climate change, the local temperatures have been climbing, meaning that the mosquitoes are now entering the birds’ habitats with deadly consequences.  Elimination of the disease and/or the mosquitoes will likely be vital for the honeycreepers’ survival.

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Residents of the most isolated island system in the world, the Hawaiian Honeycreepers are a peerless example of adaptive radiation and diversity. 

Now, native Hawaiian passerines face threats from avian malaria (which they evolved without resisitance to) carried by nonnative mosquitos.  Introduced rats eat eggs and chicks, introduced pigs destory the food-rich understory and spread nonnative plants; introduced mongoose and feral cats kill adults.  They are restricted to remant high-elevation native forest–difficult to access, beautiful to experience. 

Native Hawaiian birds are barely hanging on in the bird extinction capital of the world.  (81 bird species have gone extinct since Europeans settlers inhabited Hawaii; 32 endemic bird species (including sea birds) remain.)

Compared to mainland endangered birds, Hawaiian endangereds do not get the recognition, press, or funding they deserve.  Hawaiian birds are not listed in most US bird field guides, and the average US birder doesn’t even know that these birds exist. 

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The reasons behind the Hawaiian crow’s terrible decline are still not well understood.  Introduced predators such as cats, rats, and mongooses will prey on eggs, chicks, and fledglings.  Fruit farmers have been known to shoot crows for fear they will damage crops, despite government protection.  Deforestation has wiped out much of the birds’ original habitat.  But perhaps most damaging of all has been the introduction of deadly avian diseases, such as avian malaria, fowlpox, and Toxoplasma gondii (a parasite most commonly found in domestic cats).

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The po’ouli was not officially discovered until 1973, 50 years after the most recently identified honeycreeper, and was recognised as one of the most unique of the birds.  It fed on invertebrates, particularly snails, and was unlike any of the other Hawaiian honeycreepers.  Sadly, its numbers plummeted over the next 30 years, and the last male in captivity died of avian malaria in 2004.  While there are hopes that there may be a few po’oulis left in the wild, it is generally believed that this unique little songbird has gone extinct.  The only hope left for it may be in cloning.

Avian malaria threatens Galapagos bird species

The Galapagos Islands may have inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, but scientists fear some of the species he observed may not be capable of adapting to new environmental challenges.

Experts say the introduction of foreign parasites to the islands and the increase in frequency of El Nino events, which scientists recently attributed to global warming, could push bird species in the Galapagos towards extinction.

“The situation is precarious,” says Dr Patricia Parker, Endowed Professor of Zoological Studies at the University of Missouri St Louis (UMSL), “particularly for species such as the Galapagos penguin, which live in very small populations.”

[read more]

Zoos all around the world love penguins. They’re cute, they don’t require much space, they never eat zookeepers. And children adore watching them, especially at feeding time.

But as carefree as they might look, torpedoing through the water or rocketing into the air like a Poseidon missile, zoo penguins are stalked by an unrelenting killer: malaria.

“It’s probably the top cause of mortality for penguins exposed outdoors,” said Dr. Allison N. Wack, a veterinarian at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, which is building a new exhibit that will double its flock to 100 birds. If left untreated, the disease would probably kill at least half the birds it infected, though outbreaks vary widely in intensity.

The avian version is not a threat to humans because mosquitoes carrying malaria and the parasites are species-specific; mosquitoes that bite birds or reptiles tend not to bite mammals, said Dr. Paul P. Calle, chief veterinarian for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs New York City’s zoos. And avian malaria is caused by strains of the Plasmodium parasite that do not infect humans.

((i never knew before that there was such a thing as avian malaria!))

Oh i am also glad that we could be getting a nod to the mosquito issue with UB02 Expansion (I talked about how invasive mosquitoes, by spreading avian malaria, have decimated bird populations in Hawaii in this post - obviously the plot isn’t going to reflect this, but perhaps having a sinister looking mosquito character could lead to some hints towards the real issue, as we have seen with alolan rattata and yungoos for example)