As certain bird populations face extinction, vulnerable plants and delicate ecosystems could face irreversible damage and extinction as well, a new study in Science by New Zealand researchers reports.
While there have always been theories about a bird’s role in pollinating and increasing seed production among plants, this study presents key evidence that may have implications on other ecosystems with decreasing bird populations.
The four researchers found that the New Zealand Gloxinia, a bird-pollinated shrub, was in decline because two native birds on the island known to pollinate the plant have been pushed to the brink of extinction by the human introduction of rats in the mid-19th century.
However, in nature reserves where those two birds, the bellbird and the stitchbird, are more populated, there is an increase in seed production and pollination in the New Zealand Gloxinia.
What makes this discovery so noteworthy is that there is a slow cascading effect of bird reduction on plants. Australian bird ecologist, Martine Maron, was reported describing the repercussions of population declines in the New Scientist:
“It is not just about losing a species from the face of the Earth,” Maron adds. “Losing key species from local areas can result in ecosystem collapse.”
Emphasizing conservation and preventing the extinction of birds is vital to the continued existence of plant life and the delicate ecosystem surrounding those plants. The cascading effect reported in the study does not simply go from birds to plants, but also from plants to the insects and creatures that subsist from that plant.
Since plant extinction takes much longer than animal extinction, the researchers say there is still time to save the plants by hand-pollinating flowers and repopulating the North Island of New Zealand with the bellbird and stitchbird.
These efforts can be mimicked throughout the world in areas where endemic birds are no longer in that region.