Feature Image

Rarotonga Island / Istockphoto

January 24, 2019. Life / Islands

Threats and Hope for Islands

Nicholas D. Holmes, Olivier Langrand, Russell A. Mittermeier, Anthony B. Rylands, Thomas Brooks, Dena R. Spatz, James C. Russell, Wes Sechrest, Federico Mendez Sanchez

Lacking experience with predators or herbivores, and many species being endemic to only one location, meant that island species quickly fell victim to a deadly combination of hunting, predation, and disease. These extinctions often coincide with the first contact with European colonizers and the many changes they brought with them — modifying the island habitats for settlement, hunting native species for food, and introducing, intentionally or unintentionally, invasive species such as cats, rats, mice, rabbits, stoats, pigs, and goats. Climate change will become an increasingly critical threat to islands and island species.

 Islands provide critical refuges for highly-threatened species. A study of 2,919 terrestrial vertebrate species classified as highly threatened (The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) found that 1,189 (41%) breed on islands.

Island cultural diversity is also threatened. In parallel with island species extinctions and declines, the diversity of human cultures and languages on islands is also severely imperiled.

Nonetheless, islands offer hope that we can prevent extinctions and protect biodiversity. There are numerous examples of globally significant conservation successes on islands. Indeed, the best examples of countries that have managed to reduce overall extinction risk to their vertebrate species are all island nations: Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Mauritius, and the Seychelles.


This is an excerpt from the CEMEX Nature Series Book “Islands” (2018)

More articles in life