Distribution and abundance of forest birds in low-altitude habitat on Hawai'i Island: evidence for range expansion of native species
Bird Conservation International
The Hawaiian honeycreepers are thought to be limited primarily to middle- and high-altitude wet forests due to anthropogenic factors at lower altitudes, especially introduced mosquitotransmitted avian malaria. However, recent research has demonstrated that at least one native species, the Hawai'i 'Amakihi (Hemignathus virens virens), is common in areas of active malaria transmission. We examined the current distribution and abundance of native and exotic forest birds within approximately 640 km2 of low-altitude (0–326 m) habitat on south-eastern Hawai'i Island, using roadside variable circular plot (VCP) at 174 stations along eight survey transects. We also re-surveyed 90 stations near sea level that were last surveyed in 1994–1995. Overall, introduced species were more abundant than natives; 11 exotic species made up 87% of the total individuals detected. The most common exotic passerines were Japanese White-eye (Zosterops japonicus), House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) and Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). Two native species, Hawai'i 'Amakihi and 'Apapane (Himatione sanguina), comprised 13% of the bird community at low altitudes. Hawai'i 'Amakihi were the most common and widespread native species, being found at 47% of stations at a density of 4.98 birds/ha (95% CI 3.52–7.03). 'Amakihi were significantly associated with 'ohi'a (Metrosideros polymorpha)-dominated forest. 'Apapane were more locally distributed, being found at only 10% of stations. Re-surveys of 1994–1995 transects demonstrated a significant increase in 'Amakihi abundance over the past decade. This work demonstrates a widespread recovery of Hawai'i 'Amakihi at low altitude in southeastern Hawai'i. The changing composition of the forest bird community at low-altitudes in Hawai'i has important implications for the dynamics of avian malaria in low-altitude Hawai'i, and for conservation of Hawai'i's lowland forests.