Birds on volcanic islands: a study in social isolation

Nene at Kilauea. Source: USGS

It was on a hike to Mauna Ulu, many years ago. The path from the Pu’u Huluhulu trail head had been easy to follow – at first. It quickly left the shrubby vegetation near the road behind, and the scenery became one of total devastation. The markings of the path became fewer and fewer. Once, when I briefly lost the trail, I found myself on area of deceptively weak rock, sometimes a thin cover over a hole, clearly left by outgassing. A quick backtrack was needed. Perhaps the hole I left in one rock is still there. But the main memory is from the way back. As I re-entered the shrubs at the trail head, a group of geese suddenly walked out in front of me. It was a surreal experience. Geese, on a desolate, bone-dry volcanic tourist trail on Hawai’i? What on earth were they doing here? Were they too here as a touristic outing? The area was about as far removed from their natural environment as was possible, both in distance and ecology. Later I found out that I had disturbed a group of wild nene, the native geese of Hawai’i, once near-extinct but now protected (as far as possible on an active volcano) and doing better. They were clearly used to people and perhaps the human visitors were (illegally) feeding them – two endangered species helping each other. Amidst the otherworldly scenery of the trail, what I remember most is the shock of seeing those geese.

Nene geese (the word is pronouced as two syllables) are endemic to Hawai’i. In the 1950’s their population was down to some 30 birds, but stringent protection has helped and there are now around 2800 nene across the Hawaiian archipelago. The park has around 200 nene, which is probably close to the carrying capacity as this number has been stable (with fluctuations) for several decades. The rangers take pride in their nene, and will happily close trails and camp sites if nene are nesting nearby.

But why was this protection needed? A study of dead adult nene has shown that over half died of just three causes: interaction with cars, attacks by dogs and mongoose, and a disease called toxoplasmosis which is caused by a parasite associated with feral cats. Nene do best on Kauaʻi, an island where mongoose were never introduced. The cause of the nene’s decline was, without a doubt, the human invader: us.

This is the usual way. We know from prehistory that humanity and large animals don’t go together: wherever humanity arrived, in Australia, America or New Zealand, the mega fauna disappeared within a few centuries. But the precise cause is not known and in fact some dispute our role in the extinctions. And we don’t know how the smaller animals and birds were affected. To know that, volcanic islands provide the perfect case studies. They form far from anywhere, with a clean slate, and evolve in isolation with unique species. Our arrival at these islands was recent and sudden, and often well documented. We can see directly how we affected their ecology.

Bird watchers visiting isolated volcanic islands often come away with some vague disappointment. Yes, they saw some unique species and added to their life lists. (I prefer to let the world surprise me rather than tick off a list, but it is all about personal preference.) But they find rather fewer species than they had expected, and rather more familiar birds which were recently introduced. To them, these islands appear impoverished. Is that normal, or is it due to us? Are we perhaps seeing an ecosystem on life support? When we tell our children about the birds and the bees (for younger readers, this was in the pre-internet era), do we focus too much on birth and not enough on death?

Us and the birds

Living with humanity can bring benefits. Many species of birds have already discovered this. We have created environments which they recognize: our gardens resemble savannas, and our cities recreate rocky mountains and cliffs. Birds adapted to these environments found their world expand. An example is the house sparrow which had its original environment duplicated all over the world, and followed us everywhere. The ibis has recently expanded worldwide, as did the collared dove: both found our world suitable to them. Some birds even changed their niche completely. The european blackbird used to be a denizen of the dark, dense forests where it blended in almost invisibly and where its piercing call is at home. But in the past few centuries it has emigrated to our gardens where it is prospering but conspicuously out of place. European robins will fight each other to the death for ownership of the inexhaustable food supply of our gardens. The eastern bluebird, which from one of the most numerous birds in the eastern US was going the way of the passenger pigeon, was rescued from oblivion by our nest boxes: in many areas, the majority of the bluebird population now breeds in these artificial holes. Tree swallows discovered that those bluebird boxes were perfect for them too, and their decline too was stemmed (for a while: numbers in the east and west are decreasing as our insecticides become ever more powerful). We have become the shapers of their world. Birds that can manage humanity can do well.

But we also bring dangers. Our garden birds are in mortal danger of those lethal predators we bring with us in great, overfed numbers, the house cats. (Arguably, dogs do more damage to our wild life than cats, but we can legally banish our neighbour’s dog from our gardens and homes. Cats do not accept such boundaries.) In the US, between 100 and 150 million cats (about half feral) kill 2 billion birds per year. Those birds in your garden are living in an unbelievably stressful environment, never sure whether they will live to see the morning. They are the ultimate survivors in a home-made wild west. There are no ground nesting birds in our city environments – you may blame the supreme predator which purred its way into our houses. The wooden boxes we put up for nesting are so popular because they are the only place safe from our cats. Birds that can manage humanity can do well, but I am greatly concerned about their mental health.

Birds that instead prefer their independence still have to live with us. Their environments are changing too, as their forests fragments, insects are terminated and climate is warming. They face competition from birds that spread with humanities, and cats and dogs encroach on them too. Wherever we come, we bring change. Much of this change is hidden from us: we are very poor at noticing gradual change. But in the volcanic deep-sea islands (all deep-sea islands are volcanic) the change is radical. When people bring goats to the Galapagos, rats to Reunion, mice to Gough and snakes to Guam, it completely destabilizes the ecology. Mass extinction follows.

Pacific rat. Image from New Zealand

And some of the creatures we bring aren’t of our choosing. Among the most successful is the most despised and feared: the rat. They too have learned to follow us. There are three main species which attached themselves to humanity: the black rat, the Norway rat and the Pacific rat. The Pacific rat is the main one found on Pacific islands. It came from Flores and spread with the Polynesians across their realm, reaching New Zealand around the year 1000. Norway rats, in spite of the name, originated in southern China: they spread to Europe after 1400 AD (surprisingly late, perhaps) and from there joined in with the European invasions of the world. Black rats came from southern India and spread to Europe 6000 years ago with previous human migrations. The changes the rats brought to Europe are undocumented. The damage they did to the distant islands are much better known. Rat eradication programs have become a common part of the regeneration of islands. Where this was done, numbers of creatures as varied as arthropods, crabs and iguanas quickly began to increase.

One reason (among many) that rats are so destructive is their need to drink. On islands, especially volcanic ones, water may be in short supply. The rats get their water by stripping the bark of shrubs and trees and by eating bird eggs. So they affect not just birds, but degrade the vegetation as well. In some cases rats have caused the collapse of the local forest. The well documented disappearance of trees from Easter Island, which isolated the community when they lost the possibility to build canoes, is commonly attributed to the local need to build and transport large statues; but perhaps rats carry some of the blame. Rats have changed the world. And birds were always the first to suffer as their eggs are so vulnerable. On many islands, there were waves of extinctions. The oldest, undocumented extinctions were when the Polynesians brought the Pacific rat. A second wave followed when black rats came, twice the size and more agile climbers, affecting birds (and mammals and reptiles) large enough to fight off Pacific rats. Last of all came the Norway rat but this is now mainly found in agricultural areas where few native bird species had survived. The rats are the cats of the oceanic islands.

But what made these communities so susceptible to collapse? And some of the islands had native rats. For instance, the Galapagos supported rice rats, but these too went extinct when our rats came. Why were the rats brought by us so much more devastating?

I don’t know. But let’s look at two case studies, to see what we can learn.


Like all deep-sea islands, Mauritius is volcanic in origin, although there is no longer any activity. It rose above the waters 8 million years ago. All its land animals and birds are accidental arrivals, blown across 1000 kilometers of sea by winds of chance. (I am excluding sea birds from this post.) These included one mammal (a bat), some reptiles (geckos and a non-venomous boa), and several species of birds including pigeons, a flightless rail, and parakeets.

One of those winds brought us the dodo. The dodo became a byword for obsolence, a creature unable to fend for itself while being highly edible – a bad combination. ‘Dodo’ became synonymous with ‘dumb’. It was seen as a prehistoric creature that had outlived its world. Alice in Wonderland depicts it as such.

Jacob Cornelius van Neck landed on Mauritius in 1598. This is a drawing in his report, published in 1601. The dodo is middle right.

The island was claimed by the Dutch in 1598, abandoned in 1710 and became French in the 1720’s. The Dutch report in 1598 describes dodos as the size of swans with a large head furnished with a kind of hood; no wings but in place of them 3 or 4 small black quills. The tail consisted of 4 or 5 curled plumes of a grey colour. The Dutch named it ‘walgvogel’ which translates as ‘disgusting bird’: they found the flesh too hard to eat. They preferred eating the smaller birds. It is thought that a living dodo was brought to the Netherlands at this time. The best description we have is second hand from van Neck’s report: it describes a thick long beak with a hook on the upper mandible and a yellow colour close to the naked head of the bird, a black tip and a blue spot in between. The dodo was covered in thin, short feathers; the back was fat and fleshy. The legs were yellowish, thick, and covered halfway down with black feathers. There were three forward pointing toes and one backward pointing. The bird had fist-sized stones in its gizzards.

The hooked beak on a naked, vulture-like face is the most recognized feature of the dodo. The purpose of the beak is not known. The size of the bird suggests it was a plant eater and the beak may have been useful in pulling leaves of reluctant trees. Neither do we know where the name dodo came from: the best bet is that it came from the Dutch word ‘dodaars’ (a combination literally meaning ‘tufted arse’..), and refers to those 4 of 5 plumes pretending to be a tail. The word is also the Dutch name for the little grebe (dabchick) which has a similar tuft at its back end. The dodo was a bird of the low-land forest, mainly found near the coast. Its habitat no longer exists on Mauritius – remnants of the type of coastal forest are now found only near the mountain tops.

Dodo were clearly very common in 1598. But that quickly changed. The last report of a dodo is commonly stated to be from 1662, when Volkert Evertsz, a Dutch sailor, saw several on nearby Ile d’Ambre. However, there are in fact two later records. One is from an escaped slave who said that he saw two dodo’s during his time at large, from 1663 to 1674. The other comes from hunting records maintained by the island’s governor Isaac Joan Lamotius. These detail dodo among their prey twelve times between 1685 and 1688. After 1688, only deer, sheep and goats were listed with a very occasional Mauritian giant tortoise (now extinct). His last record of a killed dodo was on 25 November 1688. The actual extinction must have been after this. The best estimate is that the last dodo died around 1693, with a 10% chance it was as late as 1715. However, others have argued that the name dodo (given as dodaersen in the later manuscripts) had been bestowed on a different bird, and that the dodo had become extinct on the Mauritius itself already by 1640.

Many dodo fossils have since been found on Mauritius, almost all inside an ancient lava tunnel. Several hundred individuals have contributed to the fossils found there. 90% of the fossils here come from the extinct giant tortoise – this island must have been tortoise heaven. Dodo accounts for 7% of all bird fossils. DNA retrieval has been limited to one specimen in Oxford which is in very poor condition. The poor quality data suggests that the dodo was an oversized pigeon, most closely related to the Nicobar pigeon.

The dodo is often depicted as defenceless, a flightless bird that people could just walk up to and kill. But the painting show a claw-like beak, and this was a usable weapon. There are mentions of sailors receiving bad cuts from the dodo’s beak. But in spite of this weapon, the dodo disappeared within a century, and possibly within decades, of humanity’s arrival. The cause of this collapse is not known. Mystery still surrounds the dodo.

Different possibilities have been proposed. The sailors may have eaten their way through the population. Their habitat may have been destroyed. A natural disaster, such as a tropical cyclone, may have pushed the bird to near-extinction. None of these really explain the rapidity of the collapse, by a human colony that occupied only a small part of an oft-inaccessible island. This leaves the other agents of death that the humans brought: rats, pigs and goats. Of these, rats fit the bill. They would have eaten the eggs, and large birds tend to reproduce slowly: the dodo was reported to lay just a single egg. Animals survive against excessive predation by excessive reproduction. The dodo was not equipped for that. It was a sitting duck.

This leaves the question where the dodo came from. The DNA puts the evolutionary split with the Nicobar pigeon at 30 million years ago. But Mauritius has existed for only 8 million years. The island formed from the same hot spot that brought us Reunion – and the Deccan traps. If the DNA is right, there were intermediate steps, perhaps older islands formed by the hot spot. But these left us no trace, and no similar birds exist on the other islands of the hot spot. There is a mystery here: the origin of the dodo is understood as poorly as its demise.


The Hawaiian chain of islands is even more isolated than Mauritius. The nearest main land is (perhaps surprisingly) Alaska, at a little over 3500 kilometers. California is marginally further away. Kamchatka is 5000 kilometers, Japan 6500 kilometers and Australia 7500 kilometers away. It is a perfect place for a virgin hot spot. The archipelago has one more advantage over Mauritius, in that the hot spot is very active and continuously forms new islands. Species can island-hop in the archipelago, moving to new one while the islands behind them sink below the waves. But the distance is a killer. Birds still managed to get there, as did insects. But there are no endemic reptiles or amphibians, and only two land mammals made the jump, both bats (one extinct).

The birds are the outstanding feature of Hawai’i. There are 63 endemic bird species, and a further 88 are known to have become extinct. They have been joined by others: 57 species of birds on Hawai’i have been introduced by us. These include such well-known cultural assets as the house sparrow, the java sparrow, the japanese white eye and the house finch.

The iconic nene has already been mentioned, now numbering around 2800 individuals. When Cook arrived, it is estimated there were 25,000 of them. And there used to be several related goose species. The “nene-nui,” an extinct fossil species from Maui, was a heavier bird, probably mainly terrestrial and a weak flier. The giant Hawaii goose, found only on the main island, was fully incapable of flight. It was four times the size of the nene, with a more robust skull and bill. The nene, in contrast, was the smallest Hawaiian goose and has a good flying ability (albeit with some reluctance to use it). These goose species probably went extinct when the Polynesians arrived 1500 years ago.

The islands also had several species of moa-nalo, looking very similar to the geese but which derived from ducks which had evolved to become goose-size. Moa-nalo were the main herbivores on the islands, and are are the reason why the native vegetation on Hawai’i is often spiky, a defence against grazers. But the grazers are no longer there. They too went the way of the dodo with the arrival of the Polynesians.

Hawai’i o’o, the famous honeycreeper – now extinct with the rest of its family

Other endemic Hawaiian land birds include thrushes (of which two species remain and three are extinct), warblers (1 species remains, 1 is extinct), monarchs (3 species), Hawaiian crow (extinct in the wild but attempts are made at re-introduction), pueo owl (a short-eared owl which arrived within the last millennium), rails and coots (2 remain, 2 extinct), hawaiian honeyeaters also called called mohoidae which are a family of waxwing relatives (the entire family has been extinct since the 1980’s: they provided the famous yellow feathers of the Hawaiian chiefs), and the most diverse, the hawaiian honeycreepers (42 species in total, of which 17 or 18 remain).


The honeycreepers fully deserve their place in history (hopefully they will also have a place in the future but that is not assured). They are small to medium-sized birds, not as flamboyant as the (extinct) honeyeaters but not bad looking. The sheer number of species, as compared to the other families, already suggests there is something special about this family. It is the beak. The shape of the beak turned out to be quite malleable, and this provided the family with a unique possibility. A whole series of beaks evolved, each adapted to a different food source. Some have bills adapted to insects, some to particular flowers, some to fruit and some to snails. One family member, the akiapōlāʻau, even became a woodpecker. Some of the bill shapes are found nowhere else in the world. The honeycreepers became to Hawai’i what the finches were to the Galapagos. In fact this is an apt comparison, as the honeycreepers evolved from these most adaptable of birds, the finches.

Source: Lerner et al., 2011, Current Biology, 21, p 1838

An example was the Kona grosbeak, with a cross beak adapted to the hard seeds of the sandalwood tree, found on the lava slopes of Kona. This turned out to be a less successful adaptation as the seeds are tiny and the bird needed to eat all day to survive. It went extinct in the 1890’s. Other variations were more successful: the scarlet honeycreeper, better known under its native name of of I’iwi, is endangered but survives. When its food tree disappeared, it managed to move on to a new source, the ʻōhiʻa lehua trees. However, their new food tree is now itself attacked by a disease.


The list given above of extant and extinct species shows that the birds of Hawai’i did not do well in recent times. There were two waves of extinction, one after the arrival of the Polynesians and one after the arrival of the western world. These extinctions had notable differences. In the first wave, most birds more than 50 grams in weight went extinct, while birds less than 20 grams were mostly unaffected. Ground-nesting birds almost completely disappeared, which included the flightless birds. Many insect eaters died out, but nectar drinkers were almost unaffected. But in the second extinction, the nectar drinkers were very heavily affected. The impact on nectar drinkers suggests that habitat loss is a very important contributor in the second extinction wave.

The impact on ground-nesting birds suggests predation as the main factor in the first extinction. In the second extinction, these birds had already gone so we don’t know how they would have done. Pacific rats would have been the main predator in Polynesian times, whilst mongoose are the dominant killers in the last two centuries. But in recent times there has been a new factor: the mosquitos that were introduced have brought avian malaria, to which many of the endemic birds had no resistance. A third extinction wave may be in progress.

The post started with the impacts of rats. That they are among the dominant causes is not disputed, although in the past 200 years mongoose have been more damaging. But it can be hard to prove that rats are responsible for a particular decline. For the o’ahu ‘elepaio (a flycatcher), it was found that a third of all nests and half of all nestlings failed because of rat predation. Where rats were controlled, populations were stable; where not, the population declined by a quarter per generation. Another case where rats were linked to the disappearance of a Hawaiian bird from much of its previous range is the ʻakiapōlāʻau.

Many other causes have played a role in Hawai’i. New plants were introduced, displacing the ones the birds depended on. Over 60 species of birds were introduced, already adjusted to the new vegetation. But Hawai’i never had a real local predator, and introducing rats and mongoose caused havoc in paradise. And the impact of the mosquitos and their gift of avian malaria is clear from the fact that the native birds have now largely withdrawn to higher altitudes, beyond the climatic reach of the mosquitos.

A fascinating question is where the endemic birds came from. There are a variety of origins. The goose species have been found to have evolved from the large-bodied canada goose. Genetic studies suggest they arrived as a single population from the north less than 1 million years ago, and split into separate species after that. The giant goose has been dated to 0.5 million years ago: this is very close to the age of the island of Hawai’i where it was found. The moa-nalo are related to dabbling ducks (such as the mallard) but are not close to any existing species: they diverged 3 to 4 million years ago. (Interestingly, they are not related to sea ducks). The hoary bat arrived from the east: it came from North America over the past million years, in multiple migrations. The honeycreepers evolved from the rose finch, present in Asia – they came from the west. To complete the compass, the Polynesians themselves arrived from the south. Hawai’i has had contributions from all directions.

The most surprising perhaps is the Asian contribution, both because of the larger distance and because the direction is against the trade winds. Sea currents can reach from Asia, but take far too long to benefit a small bird. Continental drift is too slow to make a difference over a few million years. Perhaps the most likely explanation is that the finch arrived at a time of lowering sea level, which happened around 5 million years ago. Some islands of the Emperor seamount chain may have resurfaced at this time, giving it a series of stepping stones. Later, wave erosion took the island back to the usual tens of meter below the new sea level, and the stepping stones disappeared again.

A whole new world

Nishinoshima as it appeared in 2015

There are patterns that repeat among volcanic islands in the deep ocean. It takes time to convert hell into paradise. Colonization of new volcanic islands is agonizingly slow: very few travellers make it, and those that arrive will be in poor condition. They need to be very lucky to find an instantly available food source, and it needs to bring a mate. There may be half a million year between arrivals. This allows new arrivals enough time to evolve before any competitor arrives. The birds that do best are those that are adaptable and evolve quickly. Finches do particularly well on both accounts. Pigeons are also widespread. Volcanic islands tend to have unreliable water supplies: this is probably why ducks evolve into land dwellers. Predators don’t seem to travel well, and if they do they probably starve on arrival. The island communities are too small to support large predators and evolution into hunters seems rare. But this also means that the animals evolve few defence mechanisms.

The communities that develop become hotbeds for evolution. With many niches unoccupied, the first bird to explore a new resource has time to improve. The early bird gets the worm. Diversification is rapid and explores things that are not possible in more competitive environments. But this means that extinctions rates are also high. On the other extreme, a small advantage can lead to a rapid expansion and population growth. Volcanic islands will have quite unstable communities for a while. What may look like a stable ecology is in fact fluid and fast changing. A new entrant can push the whole system out of equilibrium. And it may be an unexpected one. Among all the possible causes for the dodo’s rapid decline, no one has suggested the one devastating Hawai’i at the moment. Perhaps the invaders brought a new disease to which the dodo had no immunity.

In such small communities, symbiotic relations can quickly develop. One tree on Mauritius depended completely on the digestive system of the dodo, and its seeds can no longer germinate. This tree will follow the dodo into extinction.

One may wonder whether volcanic activity itself may be a risk factor to the local evolution. The islands discussed here are large enough that no single eruption will devastate more than a small area. But small islands could be unsafe. Krakatoa was probably too close to the main lands of Indonesia to evolve its own species, but if it did they are now left in the past. Nothing there survived. However, we are looking at time scales of millions of years. Old volcanoes tend to become extinct themselves and are therefore unlikely to endanger their cargo.

But that inactivity becomes a danger in itself. All volcanic islands are ephemeral: they form from the rising heat and magma pushing up and building up the ocean floor, and they sink back under the sea when that supply is lost. The islands don’t last and at some point the inhabitants will have to migrate to a new island in the chain. All arrive as long-distance migrants, but the ability to travel is not used after arrival, and evolution tends to discard what is not used. Not all evolution is beneficial over the longer term. Birds which lose flight are unable to leave their sinking home. All volcanic islands eventually suffer complete extinction of their biological cargo, and much of the cargo may not escape. We may have lost many previous incarnations of the dodo – we will never know.

And finally we arrive and the floodgates open to new arrivals. Migrants soon outnumber the locals and a battle for survival begins. A new ecological equilibrium will eventually evolve on these islands, which merges the surviving entrants with a few survivors of the local evolution. But much will have been lost.

We remember the iconic dodo with sadness and the flamboyant Hawaiian honeyeaters with regret. If we now loose the Hawaiian honeycreepers as well, a regretful and sad elegy would seem insufficient. Anger is more appropriate. After all, we should by now know better. Volcanoes are destructive by nature, not by choice. We don’t have that excuse. The future of these endemic, volcanic species is a matter of our choice. We can’t go back to the past, but we can choose not to lose the future as well.

Those geese on Kilauea are worth a memory. The nene survived thanks to action taken by the local people. I was just an accidental tourist, a long distance arrival able to appreciate their effort. This story is a salutation to their effort.

Albert, April 2020

50 thoughts on “Birds on volcanic islands: a study in social isolation

  1. It has occurred to me that the extinct dodo has much in common with domestic turkeys and that if those were introduced on an isolated island with no predators building up population would provide a food source for mariners on isolated islands. Robert Fitzroy, captain of the HMS Beagle, watched his sailors loading up Galapagos tortoises to serve as living, low maintenance food on the long voyage across the Pacific and surmised they were deliberately introduced by Polynesians maintaining long trade routes across the Pacific.

    • They were eaten. The first colonists describe how one bird was sufficient for a banquet. However, the meat was not liked. The breast meat was best, the rest was very hard. The reason that one bird could feed so many is perhaps that very little was eaten.. Later, escaped slaves apparently ate them: bones of dodos have been found in mountain caves where the birds would not have gone.

      • I expect, like the turkey and beef, they really need to be hung a while to degrade some of the connective tissue, in a tropical environment perhaps easier said than done. Otherwise I suggest a long slow cooking.

    • Not unrelated, the wild goats of Barren Island in the Indian Ocean were introduced by the Royal Navy in the 19th Century to provide a self-maintaining food supply for shipwrecked sailors.

  2. Thank for this interesting article Albert.
    It makes me ponder about the western European way of nature conservation.

    Always trying to preserve or recover the state of landscape in which highest variety of species can survive. The landscape I am referring to, is the agricultural lasting until about 150 years ago. This species rich environment developed in more than thousand years of influence by humans.
    First take away the herds of large mammals (questionable if they were here about 3000 years ago though), cut forests, domesticate, start mowing and feeding. Taking every bit useful from the nature provided, people had to in those days to survive. Nothing romantic about it. Without the discovery of artificial fertilizers and new technics, the rapid expanding human population would have had a large problem surviving and the life age expectancy would be lowered considerably.

    In a landscape without human activity, due to succession (bogs or forests mostly in our latitude) the biodiversity in smaller surface would be much lower compared to the landscapes in which human struggled… But in the end all species would have had their niches in the large picture anyway.

    I guess the (from perpective of naturepreserving bit of us) ideal volcanic island would be the one that is active every 500 years and covers north, east, south and west sequentially with fresh layers of lava. Every stage of bio succession, bare lavaflow to stable endstage forest with all species belonging, can survive!

    But if it would be devistated at once, explosion of species settling would take place and develop a new equilibrium, again and again after every new specie arriving. That is the strength of earth’s nature. And humans and rats are just passing by, in time. 😁

    Cheers, Rob.

      • Sure, there are many examples of introducing one specie affecting many others in a bad way. But it has become unavoidable. I am negative about a change in near future. Humans have not been able to adapt to nature in younger history. We try to adapt nature, not live with it. Most of us do not want/are capable to change these habits. Reality is that ongoing environmental changes, leading to change in specie variety and numbers, are accelerating.

        Our way of living, travelling around the world, our economics, shipping goods & foods does include bringing species in parts of the world they never were before. So new equilibriums will develop. Nothing new, but changes come faster and faster.

        • This reply to Rob. I will admit most city dwellers would be dead in 12 months were the infrastructure to break down. However there is a minority of humans who do know how to survive without it. Luckily copious amounts of steel will be lying about but I would guess within a few hundred years the world would have returned to the early middle ages in technology and population, possibly even mid roman. Of course there would be slaves and serfs and wars.

        • Darwinian evolution has become quite problematic over time. Darwin assumed that the struggle for life would lead to continuous improvements. That is correct up to a point, but that point is not very far. The first problem is that once an optimum has been reached, every change is a disadvantage. Evolution comes to a halt quite soon. An example is the shark: it is so well adapted that it has not changed for a very long time. The way around this in Darwin;s thinking was sexual selection: the battle for attention of the opposite sex involved adaptation which were not particularly useful for survival, and which could be positively harmful. That leaves room for improvements. The modern thinking involves punctuated equilibrium, where the environment suddenly changes. A creature that was optimum before isn’t anymore. The second problem with Darwin is that evolution has no direction. There is no law of nature that says that better adapted means more complex/intelligent/etc. Often a simpler creature (say, jellyfish) does rather better. In Guam, snakes wiped out the warm-blooded creatures and spiders took over.

          Volcanic islands are unique, because they start for scratch with very few creatures. Evolution can try out new things which are impossible in the big world outside, and it does so very fast. Of course it still depends on the available gene pool. But it would be such a pity to lose this by putting the same mix of creatures everywhere. And the islands are uniquely fragile: a wrong introduction could wipe out the entire ecosystem. SO why not take precautions, check cargo for snakes, eradicate rats where feasible, etc? The effort is well worth it. We don’t try to recreate the past: that is impossible. But we can improve the future.

          • Your first paragraph expresses it clearly and succinctly and this viewpoint is simply not appreciated by many. A world with 20C temp rise may find the best adapted organisms are all bacteria.

          • Interesting.
            I would imagine problem solving intelligence is ONLY really a survival flag/skill when adapting to rapid changing environment.

          • Ah, improvements, makes me think of my attic, I need to improve it, providing me optimum space to put away stuff… 😐😉

            Ofcourse I am in favour of protecting nature. In fact I worked, starting in the eighties, at numerous projects to research, conservate/improve and also to recreate habitats of vulnerable vegetationtypes and their belonging animals.

            I am very unhappy to say these efforts mostly did not lead to substantial improvement regarding the intended values to be protected. Or if so (few positive cases excluded), it was shortlived.

            I have become disillusioned about effects of nature conservation in general. I learned protection costs a lot, loads of money, and that society doesn’t want to contribute that much to compensate its ecological footprint. Most people enjoy the green wallpaper of landscapes they are living in, but do not know of or have much interest in the quality of the ‘green’ which is surrounding them. We are taught consumentism, how to break free!?!

            Recreating the past is impossible when species get extinct.
            We can improve only when we value ourselves equal compared to all what is living around us. Terms as “improvements” and “optimum” in relation to species makes me grin. “Equilibrium” is nice’ all niches are filled, nothing much changes. I think not much of E now.

          • I see you point and appreciate your experience. And you would recognize our attic.. It is indeed very hard to re-insert a species into an ecology. Sometimes it works (red kites in the UK are an example), often it doesn’t (red squirrels in the UK). It needs time, commitment, lots of space, and blind luck. A species lost through climate change will not come back to the same place. I was told about one project in a particular field in the Netherlands, where they just could not manage to re-establish the nesting birds. They finally put up night cameras, and discovered that dogs were let loose in the field at night. They came out with this result and were immediately closed down by the local council. (I don’t vouch for the truth of the story.) Hunting is causing a lot of the trouble in the UK. The estates are big and it is about big money so they spend a lot of effort ‘improving’ the area. That means removing everything that somehow competes with the hunters: birds of prey, birds they are not allowed to shoot, etc. Sometimes with highly illegal poison, but they are pretty much above the law because of their size and location. You can’t stop hunting but it does need enforcement of rules.

  3. Good read with this article

    Much of the worlds biosphere is already destroyed by human agiculture and city expansion

    The spectacular Pilocene and Pleistocene megafauna are gone too
    The worlds modern natural fauna dont exist today, wiped out by humans.

    Today Europe, America and Asia should be full of huge elephants, mammoths, lions, cave bears, leopards, cave leopards, rihnoceroses, cave lions, Bison heards, camels, buffalo, hippos, aurochs, wolves, dire wolves, cave hyenas, cave lions, apes, straight tusked elephants, wild dogs, diffrent kinds of sabertoothed cats and many others.

    Thats the natural fauna of Europe

    Today its all gone and replaced by agicultural monotomy and cities…

  4. Hawaii offers lots of opportunities for animal colonizers

    These are one of the worlds very largest volcanic Islands ( Big Island is second largest in the world )

    The immense volcanic Islands of Hawaii offers the animal colonizers with a huge range of habitats. Hawaii haves everything! from hilos tropical forests to Mauna Loas now icefields, from konas tropical savannah to waimea temperate forest. From desert to lowland rainforest
    One of the most contrasty places in the world ( 8 well defined climate zones! )

    The animals and plants that came to Hawaii exploded in evolutionary radiation, to fit the Islands numerous microclimates. The Ohia trees for example exist all over Big Island in diffrent shapes and forms, adapted to the local climates on Big Island.
    For small birds it was paradise

    Then humans came with invasive animal and plant species.
    The coqui frogs are an infamous one.

  5. All I have to say is “Kudzu“.

    I had actually considered introducing it to Europe out of spite, but never got around to it. (Northern Europe would have had little problem with it, it more closely resembles it’s native habitat where it can be retarded in it’s growth from the winter freezes. Southern Europe would have had more problem with it… similar to the South East US.)

    • Much of southern Europe is probably too dry for kudzu. Mediterranean climate (California-like).

    • IIRC, several areas of US have discovered that goats will merrily graze kudzu unto ‘harmless’…

      Tangential, UK’s red squirrels only seem to thrive where there are ‘pine marten’ mini-predators. Happens those find invasive greys to be ‘big, juicy targets’. The one apparent exception was the reds’ enclave at Formby, on NW UK coast. There, the ‘reserve’ surrounded on land side by suburban gardens, domestic cats hunted reds, but usually failed to catch them. Faced by felines, skills honed by pursuing those elusive reds, invasive greys stood no chance…

  6. Local news (SF Bay Area) is all abuzz regarding the apparent efficacy of Gilead’s Remdesivir (Gilead is a local company based in Foster City) as an effective treatment (even for severe cases) per some “leaked” reports of preliminary data due to be released in the next day or so. According to “unconfirmed” reports, 113 patients with “severe” symptoms at the University of Chicago Medicine were administered the drug, and so far, only two have perished, while many/most others were released generally within a week. Some first-hand reports from patients indicated virtually immediate improvement after just the first dose….with many getting off ventilators within 24hrs.
    Gilead has confirmed there are other trials going on worldwide, with an estimated 1,600 participants, and that the data will be released soon…as well as confirming ramping up production already in anticipation of quick approval.
    Cross yer fingers, folks.

    • Indeed its much touted. Can they produce 2B doses? Will the chinese and indians just copy it and sell it cheap, at least locally, and offers?

      • The CEO yesterday commented they are already ramping up their production capabilities.
        Here’s the manufacturing capacity as currently projected.
        More than 140,000 treatment courses by the end of May 2020
        More than 500,000 treatment courses by October 2020
        More than 1 million treatment courses by December 2020
        Several million treatment courses in 2021, if required
        (full article here:
        The drug is difficult to make, with long lead times for some of the main “ingredients, as well as the prsitine conditions required that limits outsourcing to other labs (not to say that other labs can’t be brought up to “standards” in relatively short order.
        In response, Gilead is already lining up their supply chain across a wide range of disciplines, which I would think will be fast-tracked even more given the mutual needs of all involved. Depending on the scope and rapidity of developing the necessary manufacturing process(s), methinks the production numbers currently projected could be significantly increased. Keep in mind, this is a treatment, and not a “test” per-se, so only the very ill will need this (in the short term). The 2B you mention is needed for testing.
        But even so, if we can “cure” 100,000 severe cases by the end of May, this would lower (by a great amount) the strain currently being put on our Health Care infrastructure.
        Let’s hope (at long last) that the additional test results from separate on-going trials (due out shortly) will be as impressive as the UoCM trials.

      • I believe that Gilead is already lining up/preparing partner labs (at Gilead’s expense) who can do this complicated manufacturing process to insure their market share is maximized right in the beginning. BTW, Remdisovir is already a known commodity based on the Ebola testing it was originally designed for, but ATTM I’m not aware of any other lab that’s been willing to tackle the process (well duh, it didn’t work). My hope is, SHOULD Remdisovir turn into a gold mine, then Gilead deserves the market since they are the ones who first developed it and then put their money where their mouth is while other potential competitors had their chance and blew it.

    • The drawback of remdesivir is that it’s IV-administered, which implies to me that it will primarily be given to people in the hospital who already have severe cases… And by the time you’re in the hospital, you’ve already got a lot of viral-caused damage to your lungs and potentially other parts of your body. It will help lower the fatality rates, but I don’t see it as being the magic bullet that will help end the lockdowns. I am unsure whether it would be useful for health care workers to be given it prophylactically (don’t know side effects, and getting an injection or three every week for months is an issue).
      In short, it’s nice, but what we really need before ending shutdown restrictions is some kind of tablet that can be taken prophylactically until a vaccine is available

      • I think it is way too early to know what works. We don’t even know how the virus kills people. The immune response seems to play a role but the virus also makes you very ill itself. The bets bet seemed to be immune suppressors which counter the immune overreaction. However, these also suppress the response against the virus itself, so it gives the corona virus free reign. There are medicines that suppress only the part of the immune system that causes the problem while leaving the anti-viral system unaffected but those have not been tested. A combination of medicines will probably be required. I would be suspicious of a company praising its own products.

      • As mentioned, should a 10 day Remdisovir treatment turn out to have a demonstrable efficacy with minimal (i.e. non-fatal, non permanent) side effects, it’s use would likely be for the critically ill (initially), which is where the most excitement/momentum is. That means that a decision on efficacy could be rather straight forward…you die or you don’t. That’s a whole lot different that proving your drug simply reduces symptoms like Theraflu, which has a whole lot of ambiguity attached to it.
        But, you have to test first to prove efficacy…which is where it’s heading at the moment….and one trial run is meager data by any standard….especially since no blind study was done (tough though to complete since a DBS would mean that some people could die needlessly should the drug turn out to be effective). Even Gilead is cautioning that these early test results are merely “suggestive” of some level of efficacy, but again they’re not doing that much either trying to quell the media frenzy (a big downvote to Gilead for this).
        Cautious Optimism is the best I can muster ATTM, since this is not the first time we’ve heard about possible treatments only to find out the data is either bogus or more people die from the treatment than the disease.
        But certainly worth monitoring for the latest developments (and further test results). Same goes for the myriad of other treatments currently either planned or just getting underway.

        • Apologies everyone. In several of my previous posts on Remdisovir, I referred to UoCM test patients as being “critical” cases. That is incorrect. The test patients were “severe”. That’s because “critical” patients are those on mechanical ventilators and have progressed past the viral stage and dealing with organ failure and auto-immune issues ….both of which would be out of the scope of Remdisovir which is an anti-viral drug.
          As Albert mentions above, there probably won’t be a kill-all drug developed to deal with patients of all severities, but rather a combination of drugs made available to deal with patients at different stages of the disease….of which Remdisovir is still a candidate to fill a major role.

      • I don’t think that Remdesivir is being tested as a vaccine. That will probably be dealt with separately.
        But even if it does out to be effective as a treatment, only massive antibody testing will get things going again.

  7. if you live in a city anywhere on the globe and look at the population carefully, you will realize most will not survive a reset of time, because as a population we have forgotten how to live in harmony with nature, like live and let live

    • You are right
      Much of the worlds biosphere is already destroyed by human agiculture and city expansion

      The spectacular Pilocene and Pleistocene megafauna are gone too
      The worlds modern natural fauna dont exist today, wiped out by humans..

      If an asteorid or nuclear war takes out the modern society and agiculture
      most persons will be paralysed in the wild and unable to feed themselves.
      Most of the world population.. starves to death.

      Hunter gathering is more difficult today than during Pleistocene, since healthy ecosystems and megafauna hardly exist anymore.

      We must work to reduce the world population of humans in democratic ways
      Fewer childern must be born.
      Too many humans on the planet

  8. Only 2 new comments in 24 hours?!

    OK. Even posting a new top level article only prompted a dead-cat bounce and then the site became moribund again, so I’m going to have to ask an actual volcano somewhere to actually erupt now. 😛

        • It is a shame not to be trusted…but if the roles were reverse I would be skeptical as well, but my friend things will go to hell and when that happens I will deliver the most concrete of evidence before we lose internet and communication.

  9. A discussion forum like Volcano Cafe is based on volcanoes. As we all know, volcanoes do not erupt to a schedule. So, discussions quite naturally are likely to go into a lull from time to time! let’s hope it’s not geological time… 🙂

    I am quite sure the next volcanic incident will have us all rushing back! Iceland is particularly frustrating right now with its heightened restlessness but lack of any corks popping. However, I’m sure the local residents would prefer it to remain quiet.

    Chins up all, perhaps (like London buses) the next eruption will be along in a set of 6.

    • Hmmm, I’m sure some probability distribution would suggest that’s not improbable. Maybe we don’t have enough disasters right now and need more?

  10. Not quite true that eroding volcanic islands cause the extinction of their biologic cargo, as you put it so well Albert.

    In the temperate/tropic zones the formation of skirting coral reefs mean the island has a second life as an atoll. The atolls of French Polynesia, such as Rangiroa, are vast. The volcano shrank and sank millions of years ago but the outward and upward growing reef produced a long lasting island. Species might arrive and die out as the niches change but the atolls generally are nice and lively places for wildlife.

    In my small part of suburbia I’ve many friendly wild birds, which you can see at the link. Quite a few will sit on my hand. All natives to the continent. The white-faced heron pair have decided my car is a perfect table to eat off of.

    I drop by VolcanoCafe every now and then but rarely comment as volcanic activity has been pretty quiet lately. Which is a good thing on balance, except for us volcano watchers.

    • the location puts it in the fjord. Is there a depth known? Or could it be a collapse along the steep side of the fjord?

      • Not what I can find, but Tasiilaq and surroundings are the most earthquake prone area in Greenland as far as I understand things, and have historically had several small or medium quakes that can be felt by locals.

  11. Snap. Completely blew Greips grumbling away in the graph. 😁

    Monday 20.04.2020 03:54:48 64.653 -17.379 7.8 km 4.5 99.0 7.2 km ENE of Bárðarbunga

    Credits data and graph IMO

    • Yes, a big bardarbunga burp. I wonder what that does to Thomas’ plots.

      • IMO keeps changing the size of this one. Right now its listed as M5.0. In that case it will make an impression in the plot as it would be the largest quake from BB since the eruption ended. M4.5 would be a small but visible step. Let’s wait and see where it lands.

        • M4.8 now. I think were getting close to the final verdict. M4.8 is the size that will put the average seismic moment release in the same ballpark as before. A fairly constant slope in the CSM graph. Note that it’s not really my plot, but it comes from IMO.

  12. In the Solomon Islands you find the Megapode, a large bird that nests in the volcanic sands. I’ve seen it on the island of Savo. They are also on Simbo Island. The locals eat the birds and their eggs, but in an obviously sustainble manner.

    • I didn’t know that. Interesting to see a bird make use of volcanoes!

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