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Toxic Seeds & Birds

February 10, 2014

A Hawaiian bird faces extinction because its favorite food is threatened.



Thriving on toxic seeds. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A palila feeds on mamane. (HarmonyonPlanetEarth/Flickr)

A palila feeds on mamane. (HarmonyonPlanetEarth/Flickr)

Seeds of the Hawaiian mamane tree are toxic enough to kill a finch. Nevertheless, a small bird called the palila depends on them for its survival. The physiological adaptations that allow it to digest the seeds aren’t yet fully understood. But according to ecologist Richard Switzer, the birds are critically endangered because mamane trees are being destroyed by livestock. Officials are now fencing off mamane forests so they can grow back. But will it be in time for the palila?

RICHARD SWITZER (San Diego Institute for Conservation Research):

This is a species which is critically endangered and stands a high chance of being extinct within the next 10 years, so having a lots of mamane forest in 30 years time is all nice, but it might not save the species, it might be too late.


So the strategy for now is to breed the birds in captivity, and release them back into the wild when they have a higher chance of surviving. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.