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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Recover a Bird...Restore an Island

Recover a Bird...Restore an Island

Socorro Dove, the Netherlands Zoo (credit: Wikicommons)

To restore the ecosystem of an extinct animal or plant species requires that you eliminate the source that caused the degradation in the first place. A new success story is unfolding for a bird that was once found only on the Mexican island of Socorro (Isla Socorro), often compared to the Galapagos for endemic species, off the tip of the Baja peninsula.

According to biologists who worked on the isolated Mexican islands in the mid-20th Century:

"the islands were previously among the most unique, well preserved, and beautiful ecosystems, land, and seascapes of Mexico. For a century, the island's ecosystems suffered severe environmental impacts from habitat loss, soil erosion, modification of plant communities, and even the extinction of species, caused by the presence of introduced (feral) species."

Socorro originally lacked land mammals but had many indigenous species of birds and lizards. This radically changed when sheep, cats, and mice were introduced by people to the island after a naval base was established in the 1970's. Predation mainly by the feral cats had a dramatic and negative impact on the island's birds. As a result, the wild Socorro dove became extinct in 1972. Luckily, a number of these endemic birds were captured and distributed to wildlife institutions to create a captive breeding population. Eradication of feral cats, sheep, and mice began in 2011 with the intention of eventually restoring the captive-bred birds to Socorro. The first doves, raised by these breeding efforts, are being released and monitored to see if they successfully re-establish in their original habitats.

Islands have long served as isolated laboratories for the study of evolution, ecology, and biogeography.  Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace made their landmark investigations to understand these biological processes in the mid-19th Century. The restoration of  biodiversity, particularly endemic species damaged in the 20th Century, is a worthy and hopeful effort for this 21st Century. There are many other degraded islands where the restoration efforts in Baja could be replicated elsewhere in the world. WHB

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