Islanders: Ecology and Conservation of Raptors of the Caribbean Islands

November 02, 2019

5:00 PM

Visitor Center Gallery

2019 Autumn Lecture

Puerto Rican sharp-shinned hawk by Julio Gallardo


Former Conservation Trainee Julio Gallardo will discuss his recent work on Caribbean raptors and their current conservation challenges.

Despite representing around only 7% of the Earth’s surface, islands are critical for global conservation, supporting 14% of the world’s biodiversity. Because of their geographical and ecological isolation, islands are rich in endemism but also highly vulnerable to perturbation. Since the1600s, approximately 90% of the known extinct species and subspecies of birds have been island endemics, including six species of birds of prey. In the last review, 35 species of raptors have been reported in the Caribbean islands, 26 of which are diurnal (vultures, hawks, kites, and falcons) and nine are nocturnal (owls, screech-owls, and barn owls). The Caribbean raptor community is composed of nine endemics species, six permanent residents, four migratory, eight species with resident and migratory populations, and two accidental species from Europe. Island species have evolved traits (e.g., low vital rates, reduced dispersion) to cope with the ecological constraints imposed by insular environments (e.g., restricted area).

However, some of these island traits (e.g., limited distribution, low vital rates, and reduced dispersion) are linked to high extinction risk. Three species are considered to be globally threatened: Ridgway’s Hawk (critically endangered; endemic to the Hispaniola Island), the Cuban Kite (critically endangered; endemic to Cuba), and Gundlanch’s Hawk (endangered; endemic to Cuba). The synergistic effect of habitat loss and direct persecution has been historically the biggest threat for island species. However, low nest success (e.g., due to high rate of bot fly infestation) and the cumulative effects of stronger and more frequent hurricanes may represent the ultimate challenges for Caribbean birds of prey. Even so, applied research and ongoing conservation efforts are bringing hope to the Caribbean birds of prey to face their current treats.

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