Date:January 22, 2016
When Charles Darwin visited the Azores islands in the 19th Century, the birds he observed were familiar to him. However, if he had travelled there 500 years before, he would have found an ornithofauna as particular as that of the Galápagos. The recent discovery in these Portuguese islands and in Madeira of five extinct species of rail, which lost the ability to fly due to having evolved on islands, confirms how fragile they are in the face of changes to their habitat like the ones that must have occurred after the first visits by humans over 500 years ago.
In September 1826, the British naturalist Charles Darwin visited the Azores archipelago during the HMS Beagle's return voyage to the United Kingdom after more than four years travelling the world. In his diary he only mentions the existence of starlings, wagtails, finches and blackbirds; however, on the islands also lay the remains of other birds which populated the islands a few centuries before his visit. A new study, published in 'Zootaxa', now highlights the discovery of five extinct rail species, two in Madeira and three in the Azores.
"The species of birds very probably disappeared following the arrival of humans and the animals that came with them, like mice, rats and cats," told Josep Antoni Alcover
Paleontological exploration by Spanish, German and Portuguese researchers has made it possible to "discover new species of birds that very probably disappeared following the arrival of humans and the animals that came with them, like mice, rats and cats," according to Josep Antoni Alcover, a CSIC researcher working at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA-CSIC/UIB) and co-author of the paper.