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Island extinctions: processes, patterns, and potential for ecosystem restoration

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 July 2017

Landcare Research, PO Box 69040, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand
Institut Mediterrani d'Estudis Avançats (CSIC-UIB), 07190 Esporles, Illes Balears, Spain
Department of Genetics, Evolution & Environment, Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London, NW1 4RY, UK
Institut Mediterrani d'Estudis Avançats (CSIC-UIB), 07190 Esporles, Illes Balears, Spain
Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, ACT 2617, Australia
Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, Akeman St, Tring, Herts HP23 6AP, UK
Department of Archaeology and Natural History, School of Culture, History and Languages, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
Department of Natural History, The University Museum, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
Departamento de Biología Animal (UDI Zoología), Universidad de La Laguna, La Laguna, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Landcare Research, PO Box 69040, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand School of Environment, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
*Correspondence: Dr Jamie R. Wood email:


Extinctions have altered island ecosystems throughout the late Quaternary. Here, we review the main historic drivers of extinctions on islands, patterns in extinction chronologies between islands, and the potential for restoring ecosystems through reintroducing extirpated species. While some extinctions have been caused by climatic and environmental change, most have been caused by anthropogenic impacts. We propose a general model to describe patterns in these anthropogenic island extinctions. Hunting, habitat loss and the introduction of invasive predators accompanied prehistoric settlement and caused declines of endemic island species. Later settlement by European colonists brought further land development, a different suite of predators and new drivers, leading to more extinctions. Extinctions alter ecological networks, causing ripple effects for islands through the loss of ecosystem processes, functions and interactions between species. Reintroduction of extirpated species can help restore ecosystem function and processes, and can be guided by palaeoecology. However, reintroduction projects must also consider the cultural, social and economic needs of humans now inhabiting the islands and ensure resilience against future environmental and climate change.

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Copyright © Foundation for Environmental Conservation 2017 

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