Indigenous practices could assist endangered waterbird recovery, says UH

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Courtesy: University of Hawaii at Manoa

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Expanded restoration of Indigenous practices could potentially compensate for projected losses of endangered waterbird habitat, according to researchers at University of Hawaii at Manoa and Kamehameha Schools.

One of the birds, the ae‘o (Hawaiian Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus knudseni) has been increasing in the past decades, but it has not yet reached 2,000 individuals, a key threshold for down listing.

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“Aeʻo only have a 7% survival rate from egg to fledging due to heavy predation from invasive mammals, birds, bullfrogs, and even crabs,” added Melissa Price, a UH Mānoa professor who runs the CTAHR Wildlife Ecology Lab. “That’s a very concerning level of survival, unlikely to result in recovery unless we can address the invasive predator and nesting habitat issues.”

“Much of the aeʻo’s core nesting habitat, which is the foundation of its increasing population numbers, is projected to be gone by 2100 due to sea-level rise,” said Kristen Harmon, a PhD candidate in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management at the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), and the paper’s lead author. 

Despite the dangers, the team of researchers remain optimistic. 

“This research shows that restoration of loʻi in suitable areas under climate change could increase aeʻo habitat by 171%, even after accounting for losses due to sea-level rise,” added Natalie Kurashima, Integrated Resources Manager at Kamehameha Schools and a co-author on the paper said,

“Our belief is that the best way to respond to environmental change is to look to and be guided by local ancestral wisdom and practice. Sea-level rise will have the added benefit of expanding freshwater wetland areas providing habitat for waterbirds and a crop synonymous with Hawaiian identity,” said Haunani Kane, the first Native Hawaiian woman to receive a doctorate degree in geology and geophysics at UH Mānoa and a co-author of the study.  

The research findings were published here.

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