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Galápagos Birds and Diseases: Invasive Pathogens as Threats for Island Species

Martin Wikelski, Princeton University
Johannes Foufopoulos
Hernan Vargas
Howard Snell, Department of Biology, University of New Mexico / Charles Darwin Foundation


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Exotic diseases and parasites have caused extinctions on islands and continents, particularly when they spread through assemblages of immunologically naïve species. Hawaii has lost a substantial part of its endemic bird fauna since the introduction of avian malaria at the beginning of the 20th century. In contrast, the Galápagos archipelago still possesses its entire endemic avifauna. Several of these Galápagos bird populations are in decline, however, and wildlife managers seek guidance to counteract a potential man-made ecological disaster. We recommend that endemic birds be tested for susceptibility to disease outside the Galápagos so that protection efforts can be better designed to deal with actual threats. At present, the best and perhaps only management option is to protect the isolation of these island communities because treating or vaccinating wild bird populations against diseases is almost impossible. If the isolation of the Galápagos Islands is successful, we will preserve the complete avifauna of an archipelago for the first time in the history of human colonization in the Pacific eco-region.

Key words

Endemic birds, Galápagos, extinctions, introduced diseases, isolation, susceptible species, wildlife management

Copyright © 2004 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087