The Galapagos Islands Lose A Species, Reportedly The First Known Modern Bird Extinction On Islands [Video]

The Galapagos Islands have reportedly gained and lost a species of songbird, and at almost the same time. The Galapagos species, the Vermilion Flycatchers, currently contains two subspecies. However, scientists from multiple academic institutions, including the California Academy of Sciences, believe that the distinction is incorrect. Rather, they want to see both subspecies raised up to the status of a full, distinct species of bird.

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Unfortunately for the Vermilion Flycatchers, which are only found in the Galapagos Islands, the smaller of the two versions is believed to be extinct. Known officially as the Cristóbal Island Vermilion Flycatcher, it hasn’t been glimpsed for decades, not since 1987 reports Seeker. If the the tiny bird has crossed the line from rarity to truly being extinct, it will mark the first known bird extinction on the Galapagos Islands in the modern era.

In a nutshell, a new bird species was identified as a species all its own and discovered to be extinct for decades at almost the same time.

Prior to its believed extinction, the tiny Galapagos Island bird was only known to live on the island chain’s San Cristóbal Island; it is not believed to exist on any of the other Galapagos Islands, nor anywhere else on Earth.

While the little songbird native to the Galapagos Islands is now fully believed to be extinct, according to researchers the larger and more prevalent species of Galapagos Island Vermilion Flycatcher is still thought to be flourishing in its natural, Galapagos habitat, reports Science Daily.

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The decision to designate the Cristobal Island Vermilion Flycatcher as its own separate species came after years of research conducted at the hands of researchers and scientists from multiple institutions, including the California Academy of Sciences. Other research programs that contributed to the science behind the Galapagos Island study include the University of New Mexico, and the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.

The programs used DNA samples taken from the Galapagos Island bird over the course of over 100 years to determine that the Cristobal Island version of the Galapagos Island’s songbird possesses enough genetic variation to be a unique species.

Or it would if it weren’t extinct.

According to one of the researchers that helped to make the startling discovery about the tiny bird native to the Galapagos Islands, this perceived extinction is a “big deal,” perhaps even a bigger deal than the designation of the San Cristóbal Vermilion Flycatcher as a species in and of itself

“A species of bird that may be extinct in the Galapagos is a big deal. This marks an important landmark for conservation in the Galapagos, and a call to arms to understand why these birds have declined.”

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Scientists and conservationists are currently at a loss to explain why the Galapagos Island bird has disappeared from its natural environment. However, some researchers believe that the problem could boil down to predators and pests. Scientists believe that rats, which are known to eat the eggs of birds native to the Galapagos Islands, may be responsible for the extinction of the San Cristobal Vermilion Flycatcher, at least in part.

Another possible contributor to the believed extinction of San Cristobal Vermilion Flycatcher of the Galapagos Islands are flies, which can kill hatchlings.

Two different co-authors of the study into the likely extinct songbird of the Galapagos Islands have two distinctly varying opinions on the disappearing Flycatcher. Jack Dumbacher seems to think that the birds are gone forever from the Galapagos Islands and the face of the Earth.

“Sadly, we appear to have lost the San Cristóbal vermilion flycatcher.”

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Alvaro Jaramillo, a biological scientist and contributor to the study on the Galapagos Islands’ Flycatchers, has a slightly more optimistic take on the loss of the unique species.

“At the very least, this discovery should motivate people to survey and see if there are any remaining individuals of the species hanging on that we don’t know about.”

What do you think? Are the San Cristobal Vermilion Flycatchers gone forever? Is their disappearance something that mankind has impacted or could have prevented? Are you disturbed by the first suspected bird extinction in the Galapagos Islands in modern history?

[Image via Shutterstock]