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The historic biogeography and community ecology of Polynesian pigeons and doves

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The species richness, taxonomic diversity, and geographic distribution of pigeons and doves (Columbidae) have been altered irreversibly in Polynesia by 3500 years of human activity. Natural (without human influence) columbid faunas are estimated primarily by studying prehistoric bones. In all Polynesian island groups studied (except outlying Easter Island, Hawaiian Islands, or New Zealand), the prehistoric columbid faunas had more species, more genera, and more species per genus than modern faunas from the same island. Congeneric species pairs or triplets occurred on many islands for Ducula, Ptilinopus, and Gallicolumba. The losses of Polynesian columbids include the extinction of at least 9 species in the genera Ducula, Ptilinopus, Macropygia, Caloenas, Gallicolumba, and Didunculus as well as the extirpation of numerous island populations of extant species. If not for human impact, a typical East Polynesian island would support at least 5–6 species of columbids in 3–4 genera (compared to 0–3 species in 0–3 genera today). A typical West Polynesian island would support at least 6–7 species in 4–5 genera (compared to 1–6 species in 1–5 genera today). Since all Polynesian pigeons and doves are frugivorous and/or granivorous, their decline in recent millennia probably has affected the composition of Polynesian forests by limiting inter- and intra-island dispersal of plant propagules.
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Keywords: Pigeons; Polynesia; community ecology; extinction; historic biogeography

Document Type: Original Article

Publication date: 1997-01-01

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