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Extinct birds of the Mascarenes and Seychelles - a review of the causes of extinction in the light of an important new publication on extinct birds

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Abstract

Extinct birds by Hume & Walters (2012) is the most comprehensive treatment of extinct avian species ever attempted, and the authors are to be congratulated on putting all this material in one place. However in relation to the well-documented Mascarenes there are numerous anomalies and discrepancies, and for the Seychelles some lesser but not unimportant omissions and errors. Only globally extinct species and subspecies are treated in the book, so lost local populations of taxa till extant elsewhere are not included. Since Hume &Walters (hereafter H&W) is so comprehensive, it will undoubtedly be data-mined for causes of extinction. It is therefore important that this record is not confused by erroneous interpretation.
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Extinct birds of the Mascarenes and Seychelles - a review of the
causes of extinction in the light of an important new publication on
extinct birds
Anthony S. Cheke
139 Hurst St., Oxford OX4 1HE, UK
anthony.cheke@dodobooks.com
Extinct birds by Hume & Walters (2012) is the most comprehensive treatment
of extinct avian species ever attempted, and the authors are to be congratulated on
putting all this material in one place. However in relation to the well-documented
Mascarenes there are numerous anomalies and discrepancies, and for the Seychelles
some lesser but not unimportant omissions and errors. Only globally extinct species and
subspecies are treated in the book, so lost local populations of taxa still extant elsewhere
are not included. Since Hume &Walters (hereafter H&W) is so comprehensive, it will
undoubtedly be data-mined for causes of extinction. It is therefore important that this
record is not confused by erroneous interpretation.
It should be noted that H&W evidently went to press before Hume’s treatise on
Mascarene pigeons (2011) was published, so some species left undescribed in the book
now have valid names.
Mascarenes
Although the putative, or in a few cases known, causes of extinction were
explored in my ecological histories (Cheke 1987, Cheke & Hume 2008 [main text
by ASC, hereafter C&H]), H&W published for many birds quite different suggested
reasons, giving no supporting evidence or even sometimes, erroneously, citing C&H
as source. Since the extinction history in the Mascarenes is so well documented, these
islands provide a particularly forensic record of generally well-dated extinctions, which
can be correlated with humans activities, introduction of alien species etc.
For Rodrigues in particular H&W have adduced a completely undocumented
reason for several extinctions that took place between 1725 and 1761: “tortoise hunters
who burned off the forest to collect giant tortoises” (Cylindraspis spp.) and/or the
deforestation that is alleged to have accompanied this practice. In fact the handful
of men living there for the sole purpose of collecting tortoises had no reason to clear
forest, and there is no evidence they did so. Furthermore, the first documented case of
a deliberate bush-fire was in 1761, when the birds in question were already extinct, and
was apparently a one-off. Indiscriminate fire-raising (by disaffected slaves) did become
a serious problem, but decades later, from 1795 onwards, once agricultural settlement
started. While it probably contributed to the extinction of the tortoises, it was too late
to have affected the birds. In any case hunting tortoises with fire would have been
completely self-defeating, as they were needed alive to transport to Mauritius, and fire
Phelsuma 21 (2013); 4-19
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would have simply killed them.
In many cases the extinction date can be correlated with particular invasive
species arrivals (C&H). Many ground nesting birds, for instance, survived the arrival
of rats Rattus rattus and pigs Sus scrofa, but rapidly succumbed when cats Felis ‘catus’
arrived. On both Mauritius and Réunion the first actual report of cats was after the
birds declined or vanished, but in Réunion the cats were discussed precisely because
they were blamed for extinctions. In Mauritius the first cat report was independent
of extinction observations, but the fact that several ground-nesting birds disappeared
shortly before the report is very strongly indicative. At the time the human population
was barely in three figures, and the island had plenty of impenetrable forest and many
wetlands/swamps, so overhunting is unlikely to have been a major factor for birds,
though in Réunion the limited wetlands and larger human population would have made
hunting a more important factor for waterbirds. Despite this more specific evidence,
in most cases H&W simply vaguely mention ‘introduced predators’, or wrongly stress
rats. Some predators such as Tenrecs Tenrec ecaudatus, House Shrews Suncus murinus
and the Wolf Snake Lycodon aulicus will not have affected birds, and the arrival in
Mauritius of the Small Indian Mongoose Herpestes auropunctatus in 1900 was too
late to influence native species, but had a devastating effect on introduced gamebirds.
Likewise the Wattle-necked Softshell Turtle Palea steindachneri was a late arrival in
Mauritius (c.1920), but would no doubt have attacked the young of native waterbirds
had they not already been long extinct.
The timing of forest destruction is also important, as blaming ‘forest destruction’
when only 5-10% of the lowland forest had in fact gone does not hold water. Although
agricultural clearances started early, human populations were initially quite low, such
that sufficient forest clearance to seriously affect bird populations only occurred in the
late 18th century in Réunion and the early 19th on Mauritius. Apart possibly for the very
dry west coast of Réunion which was already much altered by c.1725, 18th century and
earlier extinctions will almost always have been due to other factors.
To help understand the timings of extinctions related to introduced predators,
Table 1 gives dates when the various animals that attack birds were introduced on the
three islands; only those animals which arrived when vulnerable native species still
existed are included. Pigs, cats and rats all attack ground nesters and reptile eggs, while
arboreal birds are targeted by monkeys and Ship Rats.
Table 1. Introduction dates of major bird predators in the Mascarenes
Mauritius Réunion Rodrigues
Predator
Crab-eating Macaque Macaca
fascicularis 1602 - -
Pig Sus scrofa 1606 1629 c.1792
Cat Felis ‘catus’ ca.1685 ca.1685 c.1745
Ship Rat Rattus rattus pre-1598 1672-3 pre-1691
Norway Rat R.norvegicus 1735 1735 uncertain, pre-1874
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The appendix table lists extinct Mascarene birds in the same sequence as in
H&W, with the documented or inferred reasons for extinction compared to their version.
Locally (but not globally) extinct birds are included for completeness (indicated by
‘*’), apart from two ‘data deficient’ seabirds in Rodrigues (Crested Tern Sterna bergii
& Roseate Tern S.dougallii) one of which, and possibly both, made it into the 20th
century.
In addition there are a few species included in H&W as known only from
subfossils, without adequate observations in life, and hence it is unclear if they survived
into human historical times:
'Réunion Pochard’ Aythya sp., no reliable report alive, insufficient material (one
bone) to establish identity, unclear if resident or vagrant, reason for extinction
(if such it is) not known
Mascarene Reed Cormorant Phalacrocorax (africanus) nanus, Mauritius:
not recorded alive, reason for extinction not known (in the appendix for
Réunion).
Sauzier's Wood Rail Dryolimnas sp. [undescribed] is mentioned in passing
(H&W:98). The first clear report of this bird in life has been discovered since
H&W was published (Cheke 2013); the subfossil bones await description
(C&H, H&W). Only reported once, in 1602, the species probably succumbed
rapidly to rats &/or pigs.
A specific clarification is required in relation to the assignment of extinct
pigeons from Rodrigues. On the basis of the very minimal material then available,
Mourer et al. (1999) echoed Milne-Edwards (1874) in considering a subfossil sternum
to differ generically from a tarsometatarsus, the former (‘Columba rodericana’) said
by Mourer to resemble Gallicolumba, the latter assigned by both to Streptopelia (now
Nesoenas) picturata. C&H followed Mourer’s et al.s diagnosis of two species, though
Hume (2011) implied that this was dubious as “no characteristic skeletal elements, e.g.
cranium or sternum, have yet to be found to substantiate” the occurrence of picturata
there. He failed to explain that the reason to doubt its former occurrence was that he
(Hume) had just re-assigned the element on which the assessment was based to the other,
ex-’Gallicolumba’-type, species, Columba (now Nesoenas) rodericana! In the same
paper he restored the number of Rodrigues pigeons to two by creating a new species
Alectroenas payendeei based on previously undescribed material. Further confusion
reigns because many previous authors had, somewhat arbitrarily, assigned some or all
of the previously known- elements (i.e. Nesoenas rodericana) to the genus Alectroenas
(discussion in Mourer et al. 1999 and Hume 2011) - the new Alectroenas is thus a quite
different entity from the old ‘Alectroenas’.
Seychelles
The causation data for the three species extinctions in the Seychelles they
include is largely accurate, but in two cases H&W missed the last occurrences, thus
giving too early a bracketing date on the timing of extinction. They also entirely omitted
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an important, well-attested, if not specifically identified extinction.
H&W missed some important data for the extinct Chestnut-Flanked white-eye
Zosterops semiflava, and still treated it as a race of, or close to, the Mayotte species
Z.mayottensis, This long-held view based on plumage similarity has been superceded
by Warren et al.s DNA phylogeny (2006) which showed they were unrelated and part
of two quite different invasions of the western Indian Ocean. Z.semiflava was part of
an early wave with Mascarene white-eyes and Z.morouniensis (upland Grande Comore)
from Asia, while mayottensis derives from a later colonisation from Africa, together
with the other Seychelles species Z.modesta and birds on Madagascar and lowland
Comoros. H&W missed collections of the white-eye on Marianne in 1877 and 1892
(Lantz, Abbott), and Percival Wright’s on Praslin (Oustalet 1878, Skerrett et al. 2001),
and the contemporary attestation of occurrence also on La Digue and possibly Silhouette.
The birds thus survived longer than H&W report, and succumbed to rats (absent on
Marianne in 1867, Newton 1867) and deforestation around 1900, not ‘between 1870
and 1900’; Gerlach (2007) noted that they were gone by 1908. ‘Competition with
introduced birds’, H&W’s third reason for extinction, is unsupported and unlikely.
The Seychelles Parakeet Psittacula wardi is quoted as having vanished ‘between
1881 and 1906’ through deforestation and persecution as a crop-pest, but although they
cite a captive pair in 1883, they missed a specimen shot on Mahé in 1893 (Skerrett et al.
2001). The third full species extinction in Seychelles was the Aldabra Warbler Nesillas
aldabrana last seen in 1983, probably due, as H&W say, to rats, although, as Gerlach
(2007) pointed out, with such a limited range (a few hectares only) the extinction could
be due to stochastic effects.
Perhaps the most enigmatic Seychelles extinction is omitted entirely by H&W,
namely the ‘poule bleu’ of the early accounts of the granitic islands, discussed by
Lionnet (1984a). This large blue waterhen was clearly, like the ‘oiseau bleu’ of Réunion,
a Porphyrio, but as no specimens were collected and no bones have been found, its
specific identity remains unclear; the same is true of the Réunion bird that H&W do
however include, perhaps because it acquired a scientific name (see appendix). It was
hunted, but it disappeared too rapidly after the islands were settled (1770) for that to
have been the main cause, which was probably the introduction of Ship Rats by 1773,
and cats by 1787 (Cheke 2010) - the bird was last reported in 1775.
The early accounts from the granitic Seychelles (e.g. Lionnet 1984b) also refer
to a ‘poule pintade’, i.e., in contemporary island French usage, a spotted rail, possibly
a Gallirallus, and a red-plumaged Fody long before Foudia madagascariensis was
introduced - this may well (Cheke & Rocamora in prep.) have been a second endemic
Foudia. Neither were reported again after the islands were settled and colonised by rats
and cats.
A most significant local extinction in the Seychelles is Abbott’s Booby
Papasula abbotti from the island where it was discovered, Assumption; H&W mention
the extinction but not its date. The birds were still present in 1908, but a settlement to
extract guano was founded the same year, rapidly destroying the tree cover and hunting
out the seabirds, which were gone by 1916, possibly as early as 1909 (Skerrett et al.
2001). See appendix for the loss of this species in the Mascarenes.
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As H&W discuss extinct subspecies, they include the dilution and near-
extinction, through hybridization, of the Seychelles race of the Malagasy Turtle Dove
Nesoenas picturata rostrata, and the loss of the Amirante race N.p.aldabrana, but only
in passing the disappearance of the populations on Astove and Assumption through
hunting and habitat destruction1. The loss of the Assumption race of the White-throated
Rail Dryolimnas cuvieri abbotti to rats and habitat loss is likewise covered, but not
the elimination through habitat loss and over-hunting of populations of Comoro Blue
Pigeon Alectroenas sganzini on Astove and Providence, Madagascar Coucal Centropus
madagascariensis on Assumption and Cosmoledo or the Madagascar Bulbul Hypsipetes
madagascariensis on Astove (Lionnet 1984a, Skerrett et al. 2001) - all three survive
on Aldabra, as does its race D.c.aldabranus of the rail. A natural population of Barn
Owls Tyto alba on Aldabra vanished mysteriously, last recorded in 1906 (Skerrett et al.
2001). Pink-backed Pelicans Pelecanus rufescens on St.Joseph were last reported in
1905 when the coconut plantations were still young and the workers still enchanted by
the birds’ antics, as described later by Dupont (1941, Lionnet 1984c), who writing in
1937, still thought they survived... Lionnet (1984c) and Skerrett et al. (2001) attributed
their disappearance to human hunting or persecution.
References
Brisson, M.J. 1760. Ornithologie. 6 vols. Paris: J-B.Bauche.
Cheke, A.S. 1987a. An ecological history of the Mascarene Islands, with particular
reference to extinctions and introductions of land vertebrates. Pp. 5-89 in Diamond
(1987), q.v.
Cheke, A.S. & Hume Julian P. 2008. Lost land of the Dodo: an ecological history of
Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues. London: Bloomsbury Publishing (A&C Black)
& New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. 464pp.
Cheke, A.[S.] 2010. The timing of arrival of humans and their commensal animals on
Western Indian Ocean oceanic islands. Phelsuma 18: 38-69.
Cheke, A.S. 2013. A single comma in a manuscript alters Mauritius avian history.
Phelsuma 21: 1-3
Clark, G. 1859. A ramble round Mauritius with some excursions into the interior of
that island; to which is added a familiar description of its fauna and some subjects
of its flora. Pp.i-cxxxii in Palmer & Bradshaw, compilers, The Mauritius Register:
Historical, official & commercial, corrected to the 30th June 1859. Port Louis:
L.Channell.
Cossigny, J.F.Charpentier de. 1732-1755. [Treize lettres de Cossigny à Réaumur, ed.
A.LaCroix]. Rec. Trim. Doc. Trav. Inédits Servir Hist. Mascareignes Fr. 4: 168-96,
205-82, 305-16 (1939-40).
Diamond, A.W.(ed.) 1987. Studies of Mascarene Island birds. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. 458pp.
Dupont, R. 1941. Quelques notes au sujet de l’importance économique des oiseaux de
mer dans les îles océaniques. Trans. Roy. Soc. Arts Sci. Mauritius C 10:2-11
9
1. - H&W also claim disappearance on Cosmoledo, but this population was rediscovered
in 1982 (Skerrett et al. 2001).
Gerlach, J. (ed.) 2007. Terrestrial and freshwater vertebrates of the Seychelles Islands.
Leiden: Backhuys Publishers. 154pp.
Hume, J.P. 2007. Reappraisal of the parrots (Aves: Psittacidae) from the Mascarene
Islands, with comments on their ecology, morphology and affinities. Zootaxa 1513:
1-76.
Hume, J.P. 2011. Systematics, morphology, and ecology of pigeons and doves (Aves:
Columbidae) of the Macarene Islands, with three new species. Zootaxa 3124: 1-62.
Hume, J.P. & Walters, M. 2012. Extinct birds. London: Bloomsbury Publishing (T &
AD Poyser). 544pp.
Jones, C.G. 1987. The larger landbirds of Mauritius. Pp.208-300 in Diamond 1987,
q.v.
Lionnet, [J.F.] G. 1984a. Extinct birds of the Seychelles. Pp.505-511 in D.R.Stoddart
(ed) Biogeography and ecology of the Seychelles Islands. W.Junk, The Hague
(Monographiae Biologicae vol.55).
Lionnet, [J.F.]G. 1984b. Observations d’histoire naturelle faites aux Seychelles en 1768
au cours de l’expédition Marion-Dufresne. Mauritius Inst. Bull. 10(1): 15-73.
Lionnet, [J.F.] G. 1984c. Le monde des vertébrés des Seychelles. ENDA, Port Louis,
Mauritius. Document 26.
Mourer-Chauviré, C., Bour, R., Ribes, S. & Moutou, F. 1999. The avifauna of Réunion
Island (Mascarene Islands) at the time of the arrival of the first Europeans.
Smithsonian Contrib. Paleobiol. 89: 1-38.
Newton, E. 1867. On the land birds of the Seychelles archipelago. Ibis NS 3: 335-360.
Oustalet, E. 1878. Étude sur la faune ornithologique des îles Seychelles. Bull. Soc.
Philomath. Paris (7)2: 161-206.
Skerrett, A., Bullock, I. & Disley, T. 2001. Birds of Seychelles. London: A.& C. Black
(Croom Helm). 320pp.
Warren, B.H., Bermingham, E., Prys-Jones, R.P. & Thébaud, C. 2006. Immigration,
species radiation and extinction in a highly diverse songbird lineage: white-eyes on
Indian Ocean islands. Molec. Ecol. 15: 3769-3786.
10
Appendix. Supposed causes of Mascarene extinctions compared.
Abbreviations: C&H = Cheke & Hume (2008), H&W = Hume & Walters (2012). Preferred English names are given in bold; where
two are shown, the first is from H&W followed by the usage in C&H, preferred by this author. Codes for Flight/Nest site:
Flight ability: N = normal, WF = weak, F = flightless. Nest site: A = open nest in shrub/tree, C = cavity above ground (tree
or cliff), G = open nest on ground, B = burrow or ground cavity p = presumed (i.e. inferred from relatives elsewhere)
Species
Flight/
Nest
site
Extinction
date (from
C&H)
Cause given in Hume &
Walters (2012) [+ ASC
comments]
Cause inferred by Cheke & Hume
(2008) or (#) this paper
Mauritius Sheldgoose
Alopochen mauritiana N/pG c.1695
[<1698]
“overhunting & perhaps
predation of eggs by introduced
predators”
Primarily cats, hunting secondary;
survived rats & pigs
Réunion Sheldgoose
A.kervazoi N/pG c.1700
[<1705]
“overhunting appears to be the
primary cause”
Cats + over-hunting; survived rats &
pigs
Mascarene Teal
Anas theodori: Mauritius N/pC c.1700 “overhunting appears to be the
primary cause”
Primarily cats, hunting secondary;
survived rats & pigs
Mascarene Teal
Anas theodori: Réunion N/pC c.1700
[<1705]
“overhunting appears to be the
primary cause”
Cats + over-hunting; survived rats &
pigs
*Réunion Black
Petrel Pseudobulweria
aterrima & Bourne’s
Petrel Pterodroma sp.2:
Rodrigues
N/B 1726-1761 [not included]
not specified; #survived rats,
disappeared like so many other
species, coincident with the arrival of
cats
*Greater Flamingo3
Phoenicopterus roseus:
Mauritius
N/G c.1770 [not included]
not specified; last reported ca.1768
when only 3 remained - #almost
certainly hunted out
2 These are combined as the only report was Tafforet’s fouquets de montagne (Cheke 1987, C&H:48-9) - he did not describe the birds, which were evidently
inland-nesting petrels. Bourne’s Petrel remains incertae sedis due to Graham Cowles never having either described or released the subfossil specimens.
P.aterrima survives, critically endangered, in Réunion (C&H).
3 Flamingos on both islands apparently bred in small numbers but were supplemented by migrants from Madagascar; Feuilley in 1705 reported up to several
thousand at times (Barré et al. 1996).
11
site Extinction Cause in Hume & Walters Cause inferred
*Greater Flamingo
Phoenicopterus roseus:
Réunion
N/G c.1710 [not included] as Boucher noted in 1710 - hunted out
from the very limited available habitat
Réunion Ibis = Réunion
Solitaire Threskiornis
solitaria
?WF/?G c.1715
“overhunting & the introduction
of predators such as rats &
cats are probable reasons for
extinction”
Cats; no evidence it was much hunted
in the heights once coastal birds had
been eliminated; survived rats & pigs
Mauritius Night-heron
Nycticorax mauritianus N/?A c.1700
“Reasons for extinction
are unknown but no doubt
introduced predators such as
cats & rats were primarily
responsible”
Cats & possibly hunting; survived rats,
pigs & monkeys
Rodrigues Night-heron
N.megacephala ?WF/?A c.1750 “severe deforestation &
introduced predators”
Cats; survived rats; there was no
deforestation at this time
Réunion Night-heron
N.duboisi N/?A
c.1700
[could be a
bit later]
“the reason for its extinction
is unknown, but it would
have been subject to the
same introduced predators as
its relatives on Mauritius &
Rodrigues”
Cats & probably hunting pressure
*Dimorphic Egret
Egretta dimorpha:
Mauritius
N/A c.1725 [not included] Probably persecution on only known
colony (Ile aux Aigrettes)
*Dimorphic Egret
Egretta dimorpha:
Réunion
N/A c.1870 [not included]
#Given long survival, cause of
extinction obscure, likely to be
hunting-related; could have been
exterminated & recolonised
12
site Extinction Cause in Hume & Walters Cause inferred
*Frigate-birds
Fregata ariel &
? F.minor: Mauritius
N/A c.1640 [not included]
direct hunting - the Dutch ate them;
the sole nest-site was on the mainland
near Dutch base settled in 1638;
monkeys may have helped.
*Frigate-birds
Fregata ariel &
? F.minor: Rodrigues
N/A ?1860s [not included]
not specified; #breeding ceased while
there were still plenty of boobies Sula
sula to kleptoparasitize.
*Abbott’s Booby
Papasula abbotti:
Mauritius
N/A c.1670 “probably hunted to extinction”
Nested up trees on mainland; probably
succumbed to monkeys, old birds
persisting after rearing young became
impossible
*Abbott’s Booby
Papasula abbotti:
Rodrigues
N/A c.1835 “probably hunted to extinction”
not specified; #said by Pingré (1763)
to be the only seabird worth eating and
also the rarest, so probably hunted;
last known birds caught for science in
1832 (C&H)
*Red-footed Booby
Sula sula: Rodrigues N/A c.1880 [not included]
Survived locals, but adults slaughtered
& chicks decimated for down by
British sailors in the 19thC! Last
reported 1874.
(Mascarene)
Reed Cormorant
Phalacrocorax
(africanus) nanus:
Réunion [see text re
Mauritius]
N/?G c.1710
[not specified, but quote
included stating that it was not
eaten except when very young]
Not a prime hunting target, but
wetlands few & easily hunted out;
survived rats & pigs, timing suggests
cats.
13
site Extinction Cause in Hume & Walters Cause inferred
Réunion Rail = Réunion
Wood Rail Dryolimnas
augusti
?F/G 1675-1705
“it disappeared due to
overhunting & predation
by introduced mammals,
particularly rats & cats”
Hunting pressure would have been
minimal, and D.cuvieri on Aldabra
copes with rats; it survived rats & pigs
for decades, so cats are the most likely
culprit.
Mauritius Red Rail =
Red Hen Aphanapteryx
bonasia
F/G c.1695
“appeared to be able to survive
the onslaughts of human
occupation & associated animals
including monkey, pigs & rats
... but the introduction of cats
proved disastrous”
[as left]
Rodrigues Rail =
Leguat’s Rail
Erythromachus leguati
F/G c.1750
“rapid disappearance between
1726 & 1761 suggests that
introduced cats were the main
culprits, but severe deforestation
by tortoise hunters from 1735
who burned off the forest
to collect giant tortoises ...
may also have contributed
significantly”
Cats, helped by direct hunting;
survived rats; there was no
deforestation at this time
Réunion Blue Gallinule=
Oiseau Bleu Porphyrio
‘caerulescens’4
WF/G
c.1720 [not
“the end
of the 17th
century”]
“primarily due to over-hunting,
but the accidental introduction
of rats in 1676 would also
have made the eggs & chicks
extremely vulnerable”
Was hunted, but remote habitat
makes this unlikely as final cause of
extinction; survived rats & pigs, so
timing suggests cats the most likely
cause
4 No subfossils have been found of this bird, so its specific identity remains unclear, and P.(porphyrio) madagascariensis is not ruled out; there was an
equivalent, and equally unidentified, form in the Seychelles (Lionnet 1984a; see text).
14
site Extinction Cause in Hume & Walters Cause inferred
Mascarene Coot
Fulica newtoni:
Mauritius
N/G c.1700
“both populations were
presumably exterminated
through over-hunting &
introduced predators”
Not a prime hunting target; survived
rats & pigs, timing suggests cats.
Mascarene Coot Fulica
newtoni: Réunion N/G c.1700
[<1705]
“both populations were
presumably exterminated
through over-hunting &
introduced predators”
Not a prime hunting target, but
wetlands few & easily hunted out;
survived rats & pigs, timing suggests
cats.
Dodo Raphus cucullatus F/G
c.1640s on
mainland,
1662 on
offshore
islet; some
claim
1680s
[disputed]
“direct hunting ... was almost
certainly not the primary cause.
The introduction of Black Rats
Rattus rattus, pigs, goats &
perhaps monkeys, all [of] which
would have been direct threats
to eggs & chicks ... are the
likely culprits»
Survivors on Ile d’Ambre killed
by sailors in 1662; mainland birds
survived rats, but pigs, abundant by
the 1620s & reported to raid tortoise
eggs, are probable main cause, aided
by hunting.
Rodrigues Solitaire
Pezophaps solitarius5F/G
c.1760(-
65?) [not
soon after
1733]
[unclear and selective account,
but tortoise hunters burning
vegetation appear to be blamed;
1755 account missed]
Cats blamed by locals, but Cossigny
(1732-55) in 1755 added hunting, as
bird was good to eat - probably cats
prevented survivors breeding.
Mauritius Wood
Pigeon Columba
thiriouxi [see
Hume 2011]
N/?A?C [unknown]
“over-hunting, predation from
Black Rats Rattus rattus &
severe deforestation» [in fact
no unequivocal evidence it was
ever seen by humans, but early
accounts do not fully describe
all pigeons]
[not included; subfossils not described
at the time of publication]
5 This is the species long thought to have been a sort of dodo - see e.g. C&H:30-31, H&W:377-8
15
site Extinction Cause in Hume & Walters Cause inferred
Réunion Pink Pigeon
Nesoenas duboisi N/pA c.1700
[<1703]
“The arrival of the Black Rat
... appears to have been a major
factor (C&H)” [misquote!]
Cats were clearly blamed by authors
in 1703 & 1705 for the very recent
demise of ramiers (? this species) &
slaty pigeons (below); they survived
rats for at least 25 years.
Rodrigues Turtle Dove
N. rodericana6 [see
Hume 2011]
N/pA 1726-1761
“Leguat ... noted presence
of rats ... and it seems they
exterminated the ... dove”
Rats confined the birds to breeding on
offshore islets before 1691; either rats
reached the islets(#), or the very tame
birds were killed by cats c.1750.
Mauritius Turtle Dove
N.cicur7 [see Hume
2011]
N/pA [unknown]
“disappeared by around
1730 as a result of over-
hunting, predation from
introduced mammals & severe
deforestation” [in fact, no
unequivocal report of it alive,
possibly due to conflation with
other pigeons]
[as then considered conspecific with
Malagasy Turtle Dove N.picturata,
still present, extinction cause not
discussed; though extinction & re-
introduction accepted as plausible]
Mauritius Blue Pigeon =
Pigeon Hollandais
Alectroenas nitidissima
N/pA
c.1835
[‘1837’
misquoted
from
C&H]
“survived humans & introduced
predators for over two centuries,
so it was almost certainly
deforestation that caused its
extinction”
Notoriously good to eat and easy to
kill, this pigeon would have become
very vulnerable to hunting once habitat
was severely reduced, as deforestation
accelerated from 1810 onwards
6 Inadequate material previously available had been referred by Mourer et al. (1999) in part to an undescribed genus near Gallicolumba, and in part to
Nesoenas picturata, and thus thought to involve two species; echoed by C&H (see text).
16
site Extinction Cause in Hume & Walters Cause inferred
Réunion Blue Pigeon
Alectroenas sp. [no
subfossils yet found]
N/pA <1703
“probably disappeared by
around 1700 due to over-hunting
& predation by introduced rats”
Definitely did not survive cats (see
N.duboisi above), but Dubois’s ‘slaty
pigeon’ may have been N.picturata
[see C&H & Hume 2011:158], so
the only firm report was in 1619 -
extinction ascribed to cats in C&H
Rodrigues Blue Pigeon
Alectroenas payandeei
[see Hume 2011]9
N/pA [unknown]
? extinct before 1691, probably
due to rats [in fact no evidence
this species was ever seen by
humans]
[not described when C&H published]
Thirioux’s Grey Parrot
Psittacula bensoni:
Mauritius
N/pC 1760s
“slash & burn forest clearance ...
no doubt had a serious effect on
tree-cavity nesting species”
not specified; #this bird was prized
for the table, and lowland forest
clearance would have reduced nesting
possibilities & increased threat from
hunting.
Thirioux’s Grey Parrot
P.bensoni: Réunion N/pC ?1730s
“regularly hunted for food,
but also appears to have been
persecuted for damage to crops”
not specified; #as above.
Rodrigues Ring-necked
Parakeet = Rodrigues
Parakeet P.exsul
N/pC 1876
“a devastating series of cyclones
... perhaps wiped out the last
few survivors (Cheke 1987)”
as left, #but prior rarefaction probably
due to deforestation and loss of holes
to breed in.
7 Formerly though to be a local population of N.picturata, e.g. Mourer et al. (1999), C&H.
8 Subfossil small Nesoenas bones on Réunion were referred to Nesoenas picturata by Mourer et al. (1999), echoed more tentatively by Hume (2011), but it is
unclear whether the birds survived throughout, or died out and were re-introduced. Dubois’s mention of ramiers and tourterelles “like those in Europe” is too
vague to be useful, and may have simply been another informant’s account of the two pigeons he had just described (slaty and reddish, treated as Alectroenas
sp. & the larger Nesoenas duboisi); the same problem applies to his parrot account.
9 H&W correctly say “it was not mentioned by Leguat in 1691-3 or Tafforet in 1725-6” - so the bird may already have been extinct. Alternatively the
visitors may possibly have conflated the two pigeon species; they gave no clear descriptions, though the ones most familiar to Leguat (Hume 2007:20) were
granivorous, hence Nesoenas not Alectroenas.
17
site Extinction Cause in Hume & Walters Cause inferred
Réunion Ring-necked
Parakeet = *Echo
Parakeet Psittacula
eques [as island endemic
species in H&W]10
N/C ?1750s
[<1760] [not specified] not specified; #as P.bensoni, but the
Paris specimen collected c.1750.
Mascarene Parrot =
Mascarin Mascarinus
mascarinus: Réunion
N/pC
?1780s
[living
birds in
Paris in
1784]
[not specified]
not specified, and bird not hunted for
food, so, as it survived rats & cats
#perhaps lowland forest loss deprived
it of nest-sites
Rodrigues Parrot
Necropsittacus
rodericanus
N/pC
?1770s
[v.rare in
1761]
“presumably disappeared due to
forest clearance, over-hunting &
probable rat predation of eggs &
chicks”
Confined, as were pigeons, to nesting
on lagoon islets by rats before 1691,
either rats reached the islets(#), or the
birds were gradually killed off by cats.
Réunion Parrot =
Dubois’s Parrot
?Psittacula
borbonicus [in H&W
as ?Necropsittacus
borbonicus]11
N/pC ?1670s [not specified]
not specified, #but not reported again
after rats arrived, so may have been
vulnerable like N.rodericanus.
10 Best considered conspecific with the extant form on Mauritius; no surviving specimen, but good 18thC illustrations, all probably from the same specimen
first described by Brisson (1760). H&W’s mention of three specimens was based on my speculative statement (Cheke 1987, Hume 2007) that three specimens
reached Paris for three different illustrations; in hindsight this was a dubious assumption - in fact they were probably all the same one (C&H:316, note 226).
The idea in H&W that the Edinburgh specimen might have been the one used for the Planches Enluminées (attributed by Hume 2007 wrongly to Jones 1987) is
nonsense - the bird was collected between 1801 and 1810 by Mathieu, almost certainly in Mauritius (Jones 1987, C&H).
11 This bird is known from only one description, and lacks subfossils - some authors (see H&W) have suggested it may have been a feral population of some
escaped imported pet parrot.
18
site Extinction Cause in Hume & Walters Cause inferred
Broad-billed Parrot
= Raven Parrot
Lophopsittacus
mauritianus
?WF/
?C?B
?1670s
[<1695]
“probably disappeared as a
result of hunting, deforestation
& nest predation by introduced
monkeys & rats”
nest-robbing by monkeys, old birds
surviving long after reproduction had
ceased; deforestation was minimal at
the time, and no-one reported hunting
this species.
Mauritius Lizard-owl
Mascarenotus sauzieri N/pC c.1840
[<1859]
“probably due to an increase in
deforestation ... had survived
alongside introduced predators
for centuries”
as left + deforestation removing nest
sites & near extinction of forest skinks
(putative prey). Desjardins in 1837
(in C&H12) also invoked “the large
number of poachers who roam the
woods that remain”
Réunion Lizard-owl
M.grucheti N/pC
[unknown;
H&W
suggest
“some
time in the
1700s”]
“severe deforestation”
not specified as absolutely no data
[#this species was never observed
alive, so may not have been around
in human times, or could have
succumbed before 1700 to rats;
probably disappeared long before any
severe deforestation]
Rodrigues Lizard-owl
M.murivorus N/pC 1726-1761
“probably as a result of severe
deforestation caused by
tortoise hunters burning off the
vegetation”
timing suggests cats; survived rats;
there was no deforestation, and prey
was still abundant.
Rodrigues Bulbul
Hypsipetes sp.
[undescribed]
N/A [unknown] [not included]
Not reported by visitors, may have
been exterminated by rats before
Leguat arrived in 1691
12 Wrongly cited as a quote from Clark (1859) in H&W
19
site Extinction Cause in Hume & Walters Cause inferred
Réunion Crested
Starling
= Hoopoe Starling
Fregilupus varius
N/pC 1850s
[<1860]
disease or parasite, aided
by replacement of coffee by
sugar, and deforestation of the
‘cirques’
as left
Rodrigues Starling
Necropsar rodericanus N/pC 1726-1761
“the islets provided the only
refuge, but when rats eventually
colonised them, the bird’s fate
was sealed”
confined by rats to islets by 1726; cats
blamed, but #rat colonisation of islets
perhaps more likely (cf. pigeons).
Réunion Fody
Foudia delloni N/A ?1675-80
“likely that the population
crashed once these vermin [Ship
Rats] had become established”
as left; the only observations precede
the arrival of rats.
... Its impact may have been severe, especially on seabirds and small flightless birds (Rando et al. 2014). The pre-settlement introduction of mammals in the Mascarenes also caused several bird extinctions (Cheke 2013). The introduction of the black rat (Rattus rattus) to these islands by Arab traders during the 14th century (Cheke 2013;Hume 2013) caused the extinction of a large skink (Leiolopisma mauritiana), an endemic starling (Cryptopsar ischyrhynchus; Hume 2014a) and at least three undescribed passerine species (Hume 2013). ...
... The pre-settlement introduction of mammals in the Mascarenes also caused several bird extinctions (Cheke 2013). The introduction of the black rat (Rattus rattus) to these islands by Arab traders during the 14th century (Cheke 2013;Hume 2013) caused the extinction of a large skink (Leiolopisma mauritiana), an endemic starling (Cryptopsar ischyrhynchus; Hume 2014a) and at least three undescribed passerine species (Hume 2013). On sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island, which has never been permanently settled, an endemic parakeet became extinct following the introduction of rabbits, which increased feral cat populations, causing increased predation on the parakeets (Taylor 1979). ...
... However, the Mascarenes and New Zealand offer rich, long-term records of species extinctions and introductions (Fig. 2). The Mascarenes were visited prior to settlement (phase 1), during which time the black rat, crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis) and pig were introduced (Fig. 2), causing faunal extinctions (Cheke 2013). The Rodrigues blue pigeon (Alectroenas payandeei) and a Mauritius population of Réunion harrier (Circus maillardi) disappeared, while much of the native fauna declined (Hume 2013). ...
Article
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Extinctions have altered island ecosystems throughout the late Quaternary. Here, we review the main historic drivers of extinctions on islands, patterns in extinction chronologies between islands, and the potential for restoring ecosystems through reintroducing extirpated species. While some extinctions have been caused by climatic and environmental change, most have been caused by anthropogenic impacts. We propose a general model to describe patterns in these anthropogenic island extinctions. Hunting, habitat loss and the introduction of invasive predators accompanied prehistoric settlement and caused declines of endemic island species. Later settlement by European colonists brought further land development, a different suite of predators and new drivers, leading to more extinctions. Extinctions alter ecological networks, causing ripple effects for islands through the loss of ecosystem processes, functions and interactions between species. Reintroduction of extirpated species can help restore ecosystem function and processes, and can be guided by palaeoecology. However, reintroduction projects must also consider the cultural, social and economic needs of humans now inhabiting the islands and ensure resilience against future environmental and climate change.
... "?" putative date of extinction; "1" only flightless taxon shared by both islands; "2" species of which genus remains unclear (formerly Necropsittacus); "3" rough approximate value because substantial differences were found depending on the sources; "4" isolated individuals probably survived beyond this date on Réunion, and populations have survived between 1740 and 1850 on the northern islets on Mauritius; "5" a small population has been rebuilding in the East since the beginning of the 21 st century; "6" several individuals recently observed, but this species has long been presumed extinct; "7" One of the two subspecies went extinct on Mauritius mainland. Source: Arnold and Bour, 2008;Cheke, 2013;Cheke and Hume, 2008;GCOI, 2019;Hume, , 2011Hume, , 2013Hume, , 2019https://www.iucnredlist ...
... The early introduction of predators of which the ship rat, the pig and especially the cat, caused a carnage among flightless birds, e.g. the wood rails (Dryolimnas), but also among other ground nesting birds (Cheke, 2013) and giant tortoises as reported many times by settlers and travelers (Cheke and Hume, 2008;Lougnon, 2005). Moreover, the absence of any mention in the historical literature of the world's greatest skink on Mauritius is likely the direct result of the early introduction of the ship rat by the Arab traders (Hume, 2013). ...
... Thus, extinctions have probably been early catalysed on Réunion due to a synergy between the rapid destruction of the most suitable habitats, the predation by introduced mammals and overhunting. Avian malaria has been mentioned as a possible cause of extinction of the hoopoe starling on Réunion in the 18 th (Cheke, 2013), but vector-borne diseases seem unlikely to have decimated native vertebrates on Réunion but not on Mauritius where introductions of potentially host vertebrates have been earlier and more massive. ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Les forêts tropicales sont largement dominées par les plantes à fruits charnus dont la dispersion est assurée par les vertébrés frugivores. L'effondrement global des grands vertébrés interroge donc quant à la résilience de ces écosystèmes, en particulier dans les îles qui concentrent l’essentiel des extinctions documentées. Les Mascareignes sont un remarquable système d'étude des ruptures d'interactions de frugivorie car la faune d'origine, pléthorique jusqu'à la colonisation humaine au 17ème siècle et aujourd'hui largement éteinte, est bien connue tout comme sa flore diversifiée qui compte parmi les plus menacées. La Réunion abrite encore des forêts indigènes le long de puissants gradients environnementaux et un volcanisme actif offrant l'opportunité d'explorer sur le long terme les conséquences de la défaunation. De plus, les niveaux variables d'extinction de vertébrés forestiers entre La Réunion (principal frugivore relictuel, masse=55 g) et Maurice (450 g) permet d'utiliser ces îles comme pseudo-réplicats pour tester diverses hypothèses. Cette thèse s'organise en trois parties qui visent à (1) décrire les patrons de distribution spatiale des traits de dispersion à La Réunion et Maurice, et comprendre les implications pour l'extinction de la faune qui a été fulgurante à La Réunion ; (2) évaluer les conséquences de la rupture des interactions de frugivorie sur la reconstruction des écosystèmes forestiers sur les coulées de lave du Piton de la Fournaise ; (3) évaluer les conséquences de la rupture des interactions de frugivorie sur le maintien de la diversité dans les forêts de l'archipel établies avant la colonisation humaine. (1) Les proportions de plantes à fruits charnus dans les communautés de plantes ligneuses chutent avec l'altitude et cette diminution est d'autant plus forte que les fruits sont gros. En comparant les principaux facteurs d'extinction de vertébrés entre La Réunion et Maurice, nous montrons que la destruction précoce des habitats favorables de basse altitude à La Réunion a probablement joué un rôle central dans la fulgurance des extinctions. (2) Après avoir étoffé la chronoséquence des coulées du Piton de la Fournaise, nous montrons que la disparition des populations de frugivores a profondément altéré la capacité des forêts de basse altitude à se rebâtir dès le 18ème siècle et que la refaunation des écosystèmes avec des frugivores introduits profite essentiellement aux plantes exotiques à fruits charnus. Néanmoins, en restaurant la dispersion, les plantes à grosses graines sont capables de s'installer sur les coulées historiques où recrutent très majoritairement des plantes envahissantes. (3) En comparant les forêts de référence de La Réunion et Maurice, nous montrons que la roussette noire permet un bien meilleur recrutement de nombreuses espèces ligneuses à Brise-Fer que le bulbul de La Réunion à Mare-Longue, excepté pour les plantes à grosses graines qui se régénèrent assez mal dans les deux îles. Une expérimentation à Mare-Longue montre enfin comment la persistance de la pulpe seule peut limiter fortement le recrutement, mais que ce dernier peut être notablement influencé par la faune introduite. Nos résultats inquiétants montrent l'urgence de protéger les grands frugivores indigènes où ils existent encore et de favoriser leur retour quand ils ont disparu. Parallèlement, des semis à large échelle devraient être envisagés dans les aires protégées où le maintien, voire le retour de la dynamique forestière indigène sont impératifs.
... The early introduction of predators such as the Ship rat, the Pig and especially the Cat, caused a carnage among flightless birds, e.g., Wood rails (Dryolimnas), but also among other ground nesting birds (Cheke, 2013) and giant tortoises, as reported many times by settlers and travelers (Lougnon, 2005;Cheke and Hume, 2008). Moreover, the absence of any mention in the historical literature of the world's greatest skink on Mauritius is likely the direct result of the early introduction of the Ship rat (Hume, 2013). ...
... Additional drivers, beyond the scope of this study, may also have played a role in the extinctions observed. For example, avian malaria has been mentioned as a possible cause of extinction of the Hoopoe starling on Réunion in the 19th (Cheke, 2013). However, vector-borne diseases seem unlikely to have decimated focal vertebrates on Réunion, but not on Mauritius, where introductions of potential host vertebrates have been more massive and where there is no elevational escape from Culex pipiens fatigans (see Peirce et al., 1977). ...
Article
Full-text available
The Mascarenes are sadly famous worldwide for the massive extinction of their native vertebrates since recent human colonization. However, extinction patterns show astonishing disparities between the two main islands and between lineages of forest vertebrates. On Réunion (2,512 km², 3,070 m) where about a third of native habitats remains, most large-bodied vertebrates, especially frugivores, collapsed by the first half of the 18th century, while several have survived longer and some still exist on Mauritius (1,865 km², 828 m) where more than 95% of native habitats have been transformed. Considering lineages of forest vertebrates shared by both islands (23 genera, 53 species), we test the hypothesis that differing patterns of lowland suitable habitat destruction is the main cause behind this paradox. Before that, we assess the potential impact of other major drivers of extinctions since first contact with humans. Firstly, Mauritius shows earlier and more numerous introductions of mammal predators known for their devastating impact (except northern islets which have thus become important sanctuaries for several squamates). Secondly, settlers were inveterate hunters on both islands, but while Réunion was overhunted before Mauritius, the burst of human population in the latter in late 18th century has not led to the rapid extinction of all large native vertebrates. These two factors alone therefore cannot explain the observed paradox. Rather, the early destruction of lowland habitats (<400 m) on Réunion is concomitant with most extinctions of forest vertebrate, notably frugivores that rapidly lost most lowland habitats dominated by large fleshy-fruited plants. Moreover, landform-induced fragmentation has likely decreased the ability of adjacent habitats to act as effective refuges. Conversely, Mauritius retained suitable low-fragmented habitats until the late 19th which probably allowed, at least for a time, several native vertebrates to escape from multiple human-induced disturbances. Despite the almost total destruction of native habitats since then on Mauritius, conservation actions have saved several threatened vertebrate species that play a fundamental role in the functioning of native ecosystems. The fact that there are now more favorable habitats on Réunion than on Mauritius argues for the rewilding of Réunion with these extant large vertebrates.
... For Mauritius, historical records have been extensively mined to recover evidence of ecological change following colonization (e.g., introductions and extinctions see Cheke, 2010Cheke, , 2013. Archeological research has tended to focus on settlement development (Floore and Jayasena, 2010), and military installations (Summers and Summers, 2008), although more recent publications focus on the environmental contexts for a range of sites (see collection of articles in Seetah, in press). ...
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The colonization of Mauritius exemplifies the role played by humans in altering the ecosystems of remote oceanic islands. This paper focuses on how we study those islands first colonized under the global mantle of colonialism. Here we aim to provide a theoretical framework for historical ecological investigations to disentangle the processes, impacts, and outcomes of colonization during colonialism, considering local, regional, and global drivers. The paper provides a review of existing literature, outlines a proposed research program encompassing paleoecology, paleoclimatology, archeology, and history, and offers details of potential research sites. We present “historical ecology” as a framework to aid future work, and argue that a refined understanding of the impact of human colonization can help create a nuanced chronology of environmental degradation that typifies Mauritius. Such detailed assessment is necessary to inform contemporary ecological conservation efforts. Finally, we argue that narratives of changing ecosystems and practice can help construct “usable pasts,” often missing from historical records, for the multicultural populace of the island.
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Because a population’s ability to respond to rapid change is dictated by standing genetic variation, we can better predict a population’s long-term viability by estimating and then comparing adult census size (N) and effective population size (Ne). However, most studies only measure N or Ne, which can be misleading. Using a combination of field and genomic sequence data, we here estimate and compare N and Ne in two range-restricted endemics of the Solomon Islands. Two Zosterops White-eye species inhabit the small island of Kolombangara, with a high elevation species endemic to the island (Z. murphyi) and a low elevation species endemic to the Solomon Islands (Z. kulambangrae). Field observations reveal large values of N for both species with Z. kulambangrae numbering at 114,781 ± 32,233 adults, and Z. murphyi numbering at 64,412 ± 15,324 adults. In contrast, genomic analyses reveal that Ne was much lower than N, with Z. kulambangrae estimated at 694.5 and Z. murphyi at 796.1 individuals. Further, positive Tajima’s D values for both species suggest that they have experienced a demographic contraction, providing a mechanism for low values of Ne. Comparison of N and Ne suggests that Z. kulambangrae and Z. murphyi are not at immediate threat of extinction but may be at genetic risk. Our results provide important baseline data for long-term monitoring of these island endemics, and argue for measuring both population size estimates to better gauge long-term population viability.
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Colonization, speciation and extinction are dynamic processes that influence global patterns of species richness1–6. Island biogeography theory predicts that the contribution of these processes to the accumulation of species diversity depends on the area and isolation of the island7,8. Notably, there has been no robust global test of this prediction for islands where speciation cannot be ignored9, because neither the appropriate data nor the analytical tools have been available. Here we address both deficiencies to reveal, for island birds, the empirical shape of the general relationships that determine how colonization, extinction and speciation rates co-vary with the area and isolation of islands. We compiled a global molecular phylogenetic dataset of birds on islands, based on the terrestrial avifaunas of 41 oceanic archipelagos worldwide (including 596 avian taxa), and applied a new analysis method to estimate the sensitivity of island-specific rates of colonization, speciation and extinction to island features (area and isolation). Our model predicts—with high explanatory power—several global relationships. We found a decline in colonization with isolation, a decline in extinction with area and an increase in speciation with area and isolation. Combining the theoretical foundations of island biogeography7,8 with the temporal information contained in molecular phylogenies10 proves a powerful approach to reveal the fundamental relationships that govern variation in biodiversity across the planet. Using a global molecular phylogenetic dataset of birds on islands, the sensitivity of island-specific rates of colonization, speciation and extinction to island features (area and isolation) is estimated.
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Five species in five genera of extinct endemic rails have been described from the Mascarene Islands of Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues: the Mauritian Red Rail or Poule Rouge Aphanapteryx bonasia; Mascarene Coot or Poule d’eau Fulica newtonii; which occurred on Mauritius and Réunion; Réunion Wood Rail Dryolimnas augusti; Réunion Gallinule or Oiseaux bleu ‘Porphyrio caerulescens’; and Rodrigues or Leguat’s Rail Erythromachus leguati. All are known from fossil remains and/or from contemporary accounts and illustrations. A sixth species of rail Dryolimnas sp. nov. is described herein from fossils from Mauritius, but was not unequivocally previously reported in the contemporary literature. This paper provides an analysis of the Rallidae of the Mascarene Islands based on existing and newly discovered fossil remains, and details historical reports and accounts. Comprehensive osteological descriptions and synonymies are also included. Their ecology and extinction chronologies are interpreted from historical evidence. The relationships of Aphanapteryx and Erythromachus are unresolved, having clearly been isolated for a considerable time; the middle Miocene is the earliest their ancestors could have arrived on the Mascarenes, but this may have happened more recently. Mascarene derivatives of Fulica, Porphyrio and Dryolimnas are of much more recent origin, and appear to have originated in Africa or Madagascar. All terrestrial rails on Mauritius, Réunion and Rodrigues, were probable victims of cat predation following their historic introduction to the islands, whereas over-hunting by humans was probably the primary cause of extinction of ‘Porphyrio caerulescens’ on Réunion. The only extant rail on the Mascarenes today, the Madagascar race of Eurasian Moorhen Gallinula chloropus pyrrhorrhoa, is a recent arrival, having colonised Mauritius and Réunion after the extinction of Fulica newtonii.
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An essential requirement of the current edition of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN 1999) is to designate a holotype or syntypes for a species or subspecies newly described after 1999. Where specimens exist this makes sense (and is indeed essential), but is meaningless when describing a species-group taxon from an old illustration or written account in which specimens were not preserved or even necessarily taken at all. The naming of two species which one or both of us described post-1999 from old accounts without designating types has been singled out as invalid on this basis. As the revisers of the ICZN apparently did not anticipate further naming of taxa from old accounts, and thus allowed a logical paradox to arise, we strongly recommend that, in respect of descriptions from old accounts with no specimens, this rule be waived by a retrospective amendment, as it is likely that other similar cases exist, and it serves no-ones’ interest to strike down otherwise properly described names on a pointless technicality. Prior to our proposed change in the Code, in this note Foudia delloni Cheke & Hume sp. nov. (Aves: Passeriformes: Ploceidae), from Réunion Island, and Diplomesodon sonnerati Cheke sp. nov. (Mammalia: Soricomorpha: Soricidae), from southern India, are named anew using the same names and the original diagnoses.
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Since the beginning of the influence of the fauna of the Mascarene Islands as a result of activities by Europeans, various members of Columbiformes have become extinct on Réunion Island. The erection of an obviously involved species of the former family Raphidae proved to be erroneous, indeed, but nevertheless it was assumed that there were up to four different endemic members of Columbidae that vanished from the said island. Inquiries by the help of both historical and modern literature showed that on Réunion Island overall “only” three indigenous pigeon species were wiped out: Nesoenas duboisi, Alectroenas sp., and one more form of the latter genus that because of the lack of sufficient subfossil bone remains cannot be definitely identified.
Article
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The original diversity of the pigeons and doves (Columbidae: Nesoenas, Columba, Alectroenas) of the Mascarene Islands (Mauritius, Réunion, Rodrigues) has been poorly understood. Only two of perhaps as many as ten species are known from skin specimens, whereas the rest are known from old accounts and subfossil remains only. Most accounts, however, do not distinguish between species, so accurate identification is difficult to determine. The introduction of non-native pigeons has further exacerbated the problem and has led to erroneous interpretation. This paper provides a detailed re-analysis of the Mascarene columbid fauna (excluding the large, terrestrial “didines”, the Dodo Raphus cucullatus and Solitaire Pezophaps solitaria), based partly on newly discovered subfossil remains. Key findings include: a new species of Alectroenas from Rodrigues and new species of Nesoenas and Columba from Mauritius; referral of the problematic species 'Columba' rodericana of Rodrigues to the genus Nesoenas; and documentation of new morphological and historical information concerning the extant Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri and the extinct Mauritius Blue Pigeon Alectroenas nitidissima. The Columbidae comprises the largest avian radiation in the Mascarenes and probably colonised the islands at least four times from Madagascar and SE Asia during low sea level stands.
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The parrots (Psittacidae: Lophopsittacus, Psittacula, Necropsittacus, Mascarinus) of the Mascarenes (Mauritius, Réunion, Rodrigues) have been relatively poorly studied. Most analyses have been based on a few skins, insufficient fossil material, and unreliable contemporary accounts and illustrations, which have led to erroneous interpretations. The discovery of new fossil remains of parrots and new interpretations of contemporary descriptions and illustrations has clarified many issues. One problematic species, Lophopsittacus bensoni is here removed to the genus Psittacula. A detailed comparative analysis of fossil skeletal elements indicates that the affinities of the Mascarene parrots lie within the Psittaculini, a wide ranging tribe of parrots that occurs mainly in Southeast Asia and Australasia. The Mascarenes are remote volcanic islands and biogeographical evidence presented here suggests that parrots reached this isolated group by island-hopping from India, probably during low sea level stands.
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Molecular phylogenetic hypotheses of species-rich lineages in regions where geological history can be reliably inferred may provide insights into the scale of processes driving diversification. Here we sample all extant or recently extinct white-eye (Zosterops) taxa of the southwest Indian Ocean, combined with samples from all principal continental lineages. Results support a high dispersal capability, with at least two independent continental sources for white-eyes of the region. An early (within 1.8 million years ago) expansion into the Indian Ocean may have originated either from Asia or Africa; the three resulting lineages show a disparate distribution consistent with considerable extinction following their arrival. Africa is supported as the origin of a later expansion into the region (within 1.2 million years ago). On two islands, a pair of Zosterops species derived from independent immigrations into the Indian Ocean co-occur or may have formerly co-occurred, providing strong support for their origin by double-island colonization rather than within-island (sympatric or microallopatric) speciation. On Mauritius and La Réunion, phylogenetic placement of sympatric white-eyes allow us to rule out a scenario in which independent within-island speciation occurred on both islands; one of the species pairs must have arisen by double colonization, while the other pair is likely to have arisen by the same mechanism. Long-distance immigration therefore appears to be responsible for much of the region's white-eye diversity. Independent immigrations into the region have resulted in lineages with mutually exclusive distributions and it seems likely that competition with congeneric species, rather than arrival frequency, may limit present-day diversity.
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This is the first comprehensive review of the hundreds of bird species and subspecies that have become extinct over the last 1,000 years of habitat degradation, over-hunting and rat introduction. Covering both familiar icons of extinction as well as more obscure birds, some known from just one specimen or from traveller's tales, the book also looks at hundreds of species from the subfossil record - birds that disappeared without ever being recorded. Julian Hume and Michael Walters recreate these lost birds in stunning detail, bringing together an up to date review of the literature for every species. From Great Auks, Carolina Parakeets and Dodos to the amazing yet completely vanished bird radiations of Hawaii and New Zealand, via rafts of extinctions in the Pacific and elsewhere, this book is both a sumptuous reference and an amazing testament to humanity's impact on birds. A direct replacement for Greenway's seminal 1958 title Extinct and Vanishing Birds, this book will be the standard reference on the subject for generations to come.
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