Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

It’s Giant Mice Vs. Rare Seabirds on This Remote South Atlantic Island

Animals
It’s Giant Mice Vs. Rare Seabirds on This Remote South Atlantic Island
Giant Petrel flying over the South Atlantic. Liam Quinn / CC BY-SA 2.0

On a remote island in the South Atlantic, a evolutionary battle is playing out between giant mice and rare sea birds. So far, the mice are winning.


That's the conclusion of a study published Monday in Ibis- International Journal of Avian Science that looked at the impact of invasive house mice (Mus musculus) on 10 seabird species on Gough Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important seabird colonies in the world. The study found that the mice ate two million eggs or chicks a year and were putting some endangered species at risk for extinction.

"In a very short space of time, the Tristan albatross will be lost and this is also true for a number of other species," study author Dr. Anthony Caravaggi, from University College Cork in the Republic of Ireland, told BBC News.

The Atlantic petrel and MacGillivray's prion are also at severe risk, the study found. All three species are endemic to Gough Island, which makes them especially vulnerable.

Mice were first introduced to the island by sailors in the 19th century and have since adapted to their new surroundings and diets, growing to be 50 percent larger than domestic mice. Seabird chicks and eggs, which are small and nested in burrows, have no escape route from the ravenous mice.

Atlantic petrel chicks killed by mice on GOUGH ISLAND www.youtube.com

There are only 2,000 Tristan Albatross pairs left in the world and they only have a chick every other year. These breeding habits are one reason the seabirds of Gough Island are losing the evolutionary arms race against the mice.

"The fact is that these bird species evolved to live on islands free from predators; that's why you get so many seabirds there," study author Dr Alex Bond from the Natural History Museum told BBC News. "For mice there are maybe new generations twice a year, but for birds like the Tristan albatross, they spend their first 10 years out at sea, so it takes a really long time for these behavioural mechanisms to kick in."

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has long been aware of the threat posed by the mice, but previous estimates had suggested one million chicks were killed each year, just half of the death toll recorded by the most recent study. Luckily, the RSPB already has a plan in place to save the island's unique biodiversity. The Gough Island Restoration Program seeks to eradicate the mice and save the endangered bird species. The mouse removal is set for 2020.

"Ridding islands of invasive species has been done on around 700 islands worldwide," Bond told BBC News. "So this isn't some novel thing we are doing; this is a tried-and-tested technique that can deliver the solution we need."

Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a pair of climate-related secretarial orders on Friday, April 16. U.S. Department of the Interior

By Jessica Corbett

As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.

Read More Show Less
Trending
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+. Apple

Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.

Read More Show Less
An Amazon.com Inc. worker walks past a row of vans outside a distribution facility on Feb. 2, 2021 in Hawthorne, California. PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP via Getty Images

Over the past year, Amazon has significantly expanded its warehouses in Southern California, employing residents in communities that have suffered from high unemployment rates, The Guardian reports. But a new report shows the negative environmental impacts of the boom, highlighting its impact on low-income communities of color across Southern California.

Read More Show Less