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We documented the consequences of large-scale habitat loss on a community of Galápagos native bird species on San Cristóbal island, based on point counts conducted between 2010 and 2017. Surprisingly, despite considerable habitat change and a variety of other threats, the landbirds of San Cristóbal have fared much better than on the neighbouring islands Floreana or Santa Cruz. While two species went extinct very soon after human colonisation, the majority have adapted well to subsequent vegetation change and habitat loss. The endemic San Cristóbal Mockingbird Mimus melanotis is more widespread than previously thought and its population seems to be stable since the 1980s. We thus propose a change in IUCN classification from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Near threatened’. We present evidence gained by interviewing locals which suggests that a small population of the Least Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus dubius, classified as ‘Extinct’ by BirdLife International, may have persisted until very recently. Although extensive searches in 2018 and 2019 were unsuccessful, the possibility remains that a few birds may have survived in remote parts of the island. Further searches that involve the general public and other interested parties are therefore deemed necessary.
Population monitoring is a vital tool for conservation management and for testing hypotheses about population trends in changing environments. Darwin’s finches on Santa Cruz Island in the Galápagos archipelago have experienced habitat alteration because of human activity, introduced predators, parasites and disease. We used point counts to conduct systematic quantitative surveys of Darwin’s finches and other land birds between 1997 and 2010. The temporal analysis revealed that six of the nine species investigated declined significantly and that this decline was most pronounced at higher elevations in humid native forest and agricultural areas; the highland areas have been most affected by introduced species or direct human impact. Five of the six declining species are insectivorous, which suggests that changes in insect abundance or insect availability are a critical factor in the declines. Further study is required to test this idea. Other factors including habitat alteration and introduced parasites or pathogens may be contributing to the observed declines.
The Critically Endangered mangrove finch Cactospiza (=Camarhynchus) heliobates is now confined to Isabela Island in the Galápagos Islands and is exclusively found in mangrove forests. Formerly it occurred also on neighbouring Fernandina Island, but is apparently extinct there. The population size and ecology of the species was relatively unknown until 1994. We conducted surveys, habitat assessments and behavioural observations of the species between 1996 and 2000. Although Isabela Island has approximately 760 ha of mangrove forests, breeding was confirmed at only two sites, comprising 32 ha in total, on the north-western coast. Our estimate of the population in these two areas is 100 individuals. Additionally, 3–5 territories (which probably contained breeding individuals) were discovered on the south-eastern coast. A comparison of habitat parameters showed that tree height and amount of dead wood were significantly higher within than outside territories, and these are therefore likely to be important habitat components for this species. As considerable structural differences were detected between the two sites holding the main populations and all other mangrove stands on Isabela, it seems possible that the latter are sub-optimal habitat. We therefore conclude that one of the reasons for the very limited distribution of the species is habitat degradation caused by hitherto unknown factors.
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