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Impacts of the Brown Tree Snake: Patterns of Decline and Species Persistence in Guam's Avifauna

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Abstract:

Predation by brown tree snakes (   Boiga irregularis ) devastated the avifauna of Guam in the Mariana Islands during the last half of the twentieth century, causing the extirpation or serious reduction of most of the island's 25 resident bird species. Past studies have provided qualitative descriptions of the decline of native forest birds but have not considered all species or presented quantitative analyses. We analyzed two sets of survey data gathered in northern Guam between 1976 and 1998 and reviewed unpublished sources to provide a comprehensive account of the impact of brown tree snakes on the island's birds. Our results indicate that 22 species, including 17 of 18 native species, were severely affected by snakes. Twelve species were likely extirpated as breeding residents on the main island, 8 others experienced declines of ≥90% throughout the island or at least in the north, and 2 were kept at reduced population levels during all or much of the study. Declines of ≥90% occurred rapidly, averaging just 8.9 years along three roadside survey routes combined and 1.6 years at a 100-ha forested study site. Declines in northern Guam were also relatively synchronous and occurred from about 1976 to 1986 for most species. The most important factor predisposing a species to coexistence with brown tree snakes was its ability to nest and roost at locations where snakes were uncommon. Large clutch size and large body size were also related to longer persistence times, although large body size appeared to delay, but not prevent, extirpation. Our results draw attention to the enormous detrimental impact that brown tree snakes are likely to have upon invading new areas. Increased containment efforts on Guam are needed to prevent further colonizations, but a variety of additional management efforts would also benefit the island's remaining bird populations.
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Keywords: Guam; Guam, islas; Palabras Clave; aves; birds; brown tree snake; culebra arbórea parda; declines; depredación; especies introducidas; extinción; extinction; extirpación; extirpation; introduced species; islands; poblaciones; populations; predation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources  , 192 Dairy Road, Mangilao, Guam 96913, U.S.A. 2: S nake River Field Station, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, 970 Lusk Street, Boise, ID 83706, U.S.A.

Publication date: October 1, 2003

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