23 Mar 2015

New research for saving species on tropical islands as we prepare for big operation

Endangered species bounce back from extinction on islands like this when invasive rats are removed. Photo: Island Conservation
By Shaun Hurrell

Importance of tropical island restoration recognised by international scientific journal as we prepare for the biggest ever operation to save birds from extinction in French Polynesia

The May 2015 issue of international journal Biological Conservation is dedicated to tropical island conservation.  The special issue recommends best practices for restoring islands to their former glory by removing invasive rats, which have caused incredible destruction since they were introduced by humans.

These techniques have been pioneered in the Pacific by BirdLife International and partners such as Island Conservation, and now used around the globe. We were involved with an expert symposium in 2013 that led to this special issue of Biological Conservation.

This comes at a time when BirdLife is preparing with partners for its biggest island restoration projects ever: a huge and important operation to remove invasive species in French Polynesia, where most native birds are at immediate risk of extinction. As our boat is preparing for its mission to the remote Acteon and Gambier archipelagos, this project has currently reached 79% of its funding target.

This operation is taking action for Critically Endangered species Tuamotu Sandpiper and Polynesian Ground-dove, through tried-and-tested science that has seen us remove rats and other killer invasives from 34 islands in five Pacific countries. But before the boat can leave, we still need your help to reach the target and implement over one year’s careful planning and research. Following this news, you can be sure that you will be supporting a project that is backed by the best scientific research and advancements.

Your support will allow the Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove to recover (Pete Morris;

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Invasive rats have travelled with humans to over 80% of the world’s islands groups, where negative impacts have been recorded on 173 species of plants and animals, many of which are imperiled. Rat removal is one of the most immediate and significant actions needed to help restore these ecosystems. However, as the authors illustrate in the special issue, rat removal on tropical islands have had a lower success rate than those in temperate zones, and recently dropped below 80 percent, creating a critical gap in our island restoration toolkit.

The special edition in Biological Conservation includes ten peer reviewed papers focused on cutting edge tropical island research on rat biology and management, recommended best practices for rat removal, and emerging technologies which might be game-changing for island restoration. This represents a path forward for improving research and removal of rats on tropical islands. Ultimately, this means we can work towards saving more endangered island species faster in the tropics where conservation is most sorely needed.

“The benefits of this collective knowledge are being applied to the operation to be conducted by BirdLife and its partners (including Island Conservation) in French Polynesia in May. This collaboration and the resulting advancements will further improve the likelihood of success on six islands aimed at safeguarding eight globally threatened bird species. Importantly the operation will also continue to build the knowledge of is biologists and island restoration practitioners protecting the vulnerable habitats and highly threatened wildlife of tropical islands.”

Steve Cranwell, Programme Manager, Invasive Alien Species Programme, BirdLife International.

The special issue of the journal, edited by Dr. James Russell of the School of Biological Sciences and Department of Statistics and Dr. Nick Holmes of US-based NGO Island Conservation, compiles papers following a Tropical Rodent Eradication Review and Symposium convened at the University of Auckland in August 2013, and attended by more than 30 experts in the fields of island ecology, rodent ecology and rodent removal from around the globe. The Symposium was initiated by Island Conservation and convened by the Pacific Invasives Initiative, Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas, BirdLife International, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the US Department of Agriculture, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The workshop goal was to assess current approaches and assumptions in rodent eradications and develop recommendations to improve the success rate of future rodent eradications undertaken on tropical and sub-tropical islands worldwide.

The special issue can be accessed here, including free–to-download copies of the articles: Tropical island conservation: Rat eradication for species recovery and Best practice guidelines for rat eradication on tropical islands.

More info here: