I recently attended a workshop in Hawaii to discuss frugivory and seed dispersal on islands and how human impacts may have changed this important plant-animal interaction. Don Drake (University of Hawaii, USA) and Kim McConkey (National Institute of Advanced Studies, India) convened a group of experts from around the world to discuss the topic. It was a productive week, with extensive discussion and excursions into the field.
As part of the workshop, we were privileged to see ‘alalā (the Hawaiian crow) at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the Big Island of Hawaii. ‘Alalā primarily eat fruit, and were undoubtedly an important seed disperser in forests on the Big Island of Hawaii until recently, and on Maui before European arrival.
Tragically, ‘alalā are now extinct in the wild, as are two thirds of the endemic Hawaiian bird species that were present before humans arrived. Over the past few decades, ‘alalā have been bred successfully in captivity by the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. There are plans to reintroduce them into the wild later this year. This is an exciting and ambitious undertaking that if successful will not only reintroduce an extinct species, but also re-establish a key ecosystem process, and hopefully prevent rare plant species from going extinct as a consequence of losing their seed disperser.