Hawaiʻi is the extinction capitol of the world and that includes many of our amazing native birds. Over 77 species of birds have gone extinct since the arrival of people in the islands and over 30 of those were lost because of the introduction of mosquitoes. That's right, before 1826 Hawaiʻi had no mosquitoes! Since their introduction mosquitoes have spread deadly avian malaria and avian pox to some of our most incredible and iconic native birds and are continuing to threaten our few surviving species.Image of a mosquito biting an ʻApapane by Jack Jeffrey
On Maui and Kauaʻi in particular, warming temperatures are allowing mosquitoes to expand their range into the last high elevation areas where native birds have so far been able to escape extinction. In the last 10 years some birds have declined by 50, 75, and even 98% almost entirely thanks to mosquitoes. If nothing is done, by 2100, experts believe a majority of the remaining native Hawaiian birds will most likely be extinct in the wild or highly endangered.
Original art work by H. Douglas Pratt. Diversity of Hawaiian honeycreepers and extinction. Birds with red Xs are extinct, red circles are critically endangered, and yellow circles are threatened or endangered. All of the extinctions pictured here were driven primarily by mosquitoes.
Fortunately, there are are some newly emerging technologies that are producing promising results in the fight against mosquitoes. For the first time in almost 200 years there are some possible solutions for safely removing mosquitoes and finally being able to protect native birds of Hawaiʻi from the devastating plagues that they spread. One method that has been widely used around the world is wholbachia. Its a type of stomach bacteria that lives in the gut of most of the insects around the world. Interestingly though, if a male and a female mosquito have different strains of this bacteria they canʻt produce any young! This method has helped reduce wild mosquitoes by as much as 96% in some studies! The other method that provides a more permanent solution uses a form of genetic engineering called CRISPR to modify male (they donʻt bite! only female mosquitoes will bite birds or humans) mosquitoes so that they can only produce male offspring. As this gene spreads eventually all of the mosquitoes will be male and they will die out. This technology offers the first best hope to save Hawaiʻi's birds. Check out this link for more info: https://abcbirds.org/biotechnology-hawaiis-invasive-mosquitoes/
In order to help our native birds the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Mosquito Research Lab is working hard to develop both the Wolbachia and CRISPR technologies for use in the field, but they are in need of assistance to fund their critically important work and help move their projects forward. The biggest threat to the native birds in Hawaiʻi is certainly mosquitoes, but the second is time. The time it takes to develop, test, and implement these new technologies can make all the difference for the birds. Unprecedented technology provides hope to save our birds, but there is also fear that the help may come too late to stop extinction. Extinction is forever. Please contribute whatever you can to help support this critical research and help speed up the development of these technologies to save native Hawaiian bird species. To make a tax exempt donation directly to the lab see this link: https://giving.uhfoundation.org/funds/12907404
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