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Avian researcher Bethany Woodworth co-edits book on Hawaiian forest birds

January 26, 2010

Hawaii's forest bird community is the most insular and most endangered in the world and serves as a case study for threatened species globally. Ten have disappeared in the past 30 years, nine are critically endangered, and even common species are currently in decline.

Bethany L. Woodworth, Ph.D., University of New England visiting assistant professor of environmental studies, is co-editor and contributing author to Conservation Biology of Hawaiian Forest Birds: Implications for Island Avifauna, published by Yale University Press in November 2009. Co-editors are Thane K. Pratt, Carter T. Atkinson, Paul C. Banko, and James D. Jacobi.

Woodworth and her coeditors, researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey in Hawaii, conceived of the project in 1998. It became clear to them at the time that they needed to synthesize the results of more than a decade of new research on Hawaiian forest birds, conducted by researchers at the U.S.G.S. and at sister agencies and universities in the islands.


"Sadly, Hawaiian birds have suffered terrible losses since the arrival of people," Woodworth explains. "The statistics of extinction are truly appalling. Entire bird groups are gone: flightless waterfowl, ibises, and rails with stunted wings, a sea-eagle, several long-legged, bird-hunting owls, and the renowned `_`_ with their coveted golden plumes and piping song. Of the more than 54 species of honeycreeper present when the first person set foot on a Hawaiian shore, a meager 17 remain. In the last 50 years, nine bird species have disappeared, and another, the `Alala, exists only in captivity."

While the survival of Hawaiian forest birds owes much to the characteristics and adaptability of the remaining species, it is also due to rapid progress in research and conservation. 

Over the past two decades research emphasis has grown to cover comparative life history, population ecology particularly in relation to limiting factors, many aspects of disease epidemiology, experimentation with removal of predators, technique development for reintroductions, and first-time captive propagation for the majority of Hawaiian passerines.

On the conservation front many thousands of hectares of forest have recently come under active restoration; former pastureland is being reforested; techniques to control feral ungulates and predators have been implemented; and a modern facility to propagate forest birds has been established. 

Most habitats, however, are still subject to damage from feral ungulates, alien weeds, and pests; control of predators is not sustainable even in small areas; and nowhere has management been effectively implemented with respect to two big killers, avian malaria and pox. "Clearly much more needs to be done," Woodworth explains.

The Book

Among the topics covered in this book are trends in bird populations, environmental and genetic factors limiting population size, avian diseases, predators, and competing alien bird species. Color plates by award-winning local photographer Jack Jeffrey illustrate all living species discussed or described. Woodworth is the author on a total of five chapters in the book.

The book has met with critical praise:

"This book is at once an encyclopedia chronicling a global-scale tragedy, and a masterpiece call-to-arms for saving and restoring what remains of the unique and beautiful Hawaiian avifauna." - John W. Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., Director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology; member, `Alala Recovery Team

"Islands are rife with conservation drama and there is no better example than Hawaii. . . .this book is a first for conservation biology of islands in general, and has all the earmarks of a classic. . . . A cornerstone for any nature, conservation and sciencebookshelf." - Thomas E. Lovejoy, president of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment and biodiversity adviser for the World Bank and the United Nations Foundation

Bethany Woodworth

Woodworth began teaching at UNE in the Department of Environmental Studies in fall of 2007. She teaches Introduction to Environmental Issues, as well as an upper division course, Case Studies in Biodiversity Preservation.

Woodworth has been working in conservation research for many years and has conducted conservation research in a variety of ecosystems from east Africa and Central America to the Caribbean and Pacific Islands. She served as monitoring ecologist for Frankfurt Zoological Society, flying extensive aerial surveys for wildlife (elephants, wildebeest, and the like) in east Africa. She also studied the drivers of population decline in waterfowl and songbirds in the Caribbean for her doctoral research.

During the 10 years prior to coming to UNE, Woodworth worked for the Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center of the U.S. Geological Survey. Her research on the ecology and conservation of bird populations led her into investigations of avian disease, climate change, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, monitoring techniques, population dynamics, conservation planning, and endangered species recovery. Her priority has been to develop on-the-ground conservation strategies for vulnerable species, such as invasive species control, forest restoration, and captive propagation and release.

Woodworth has published more than 60 peer-reviewed publications and technical reports, She served on the Board of Governors of the Society for Conservation Biology for five years, served as co-chair of the LOC and chair of the Scientific Program for SCB's 2001 meeting in Hawaii. She is also an elective member of the American Ornithologists' Union. She has been a member of the Hawaii Forest Bird Recovery Team that developed a recovery plan for 21 species of endangered birds on five islands.

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