Hugh Bollinger
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Evolution on islands has produced myriads of wondrous plants and animals. Some of these creations can be rather odd in appearance, however. Think of the dodo, a flightless pigeon discovered in the 16th Century on the island of Mauritius. Without predators, the dodo evolved -- or devolved -- until it lost its wings, grew pudgy, and waddled about with no fear. It is now long gone and has become a poster-child for extinction. The dodo couldn't survive in the face of invasive predators like rats, cats, and humans. The evolutionary principal that created this once dumpy bird is called gigantism and along with its companion island bio-geography force, dwarfism, is a major influence on isolated islands anywhere. [caption id="attachment_5907" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Dodo engraving (source: file image)"][/caption] Besides the dodo, this process has produced such unusual creatures like the huge komodo dragon of Indonesia, the now extinct Moa of New Zealand, the dwarf humans who once lived on the Island of Flores, and unusual plants like the cabbage-on-a-stick (Brighamia insignis) from Hawaii. [caption id="attachment_5917" align="aligncenter" width="1024" caption="Brighamia insignis: cabbage-on-a-stick (credit: The Encyclopedia of Life)"][/caption] Brighamia is now found only on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai where it is highly restricted to steep cliffs where feral goats can't reach it. Luckily, the cabbage-on-a-stick can be propagated from seeds and is now in botanical collections around the world. Restoration efforts using techniques more typical of rock climbers than botanists are being used to replant suitable cliff sites. The ability of the cabbage-on-a-stick to spread is in doubt and requires further human intervention. The story of its missing pollinator is yet another bit of extinction history. WHB
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