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Cryptic extinction of a common Pacific lizard Emoia impar (Squamata, Scincidae) from the Hawaiian Islands

  • Robert Fisher (a1) and Ivan Ineich (a2)

Most documented declines of tropical reptiles are of dramatic or enigmatic species. Declines of widespread species tend to be cryptic. The early (1900s) decline and extinction of the common Pacific skink Emoia impar from the Hawaiian Islands is documented here through an assessment of literature, museum vouchers and recent fieldwork. This decline appears contemporaneous with the documented declines of invertebrates and birds across the Hawaiian Islands. A review of the plausible causal factors indicates that the spread of the introduced big-headed ant Pheidole megacephala is the most likely factor in this lizard decline. The introduction and spread of a similar skink Lampropholis delicata across the islands appears to temporally follow the decline of E. impar, although there is no evidence of competition between these species. It appears that L. delicata is spreading to occupy the niche vacated by the extirpated E. impar. Further confusion exists because the skink E. cyanura, which is very similar in appearance to E. impar, appears to have been introduced to one site within a hotel on Kaua'i and persisted as a population at that site for approximately 2 decades (1970s–1990s) but is now also extirpated. This study highlights the cryptic nature of this early species extinction as evidence that current biogeographical patterns of non-charismatic or enigmatic reptiles across the Pacific may be the historical result of early widespread invasion by ants. Conservation and restoration activities for reptiles in the tropical Pacific should consider this possibility and evaluate all evidence prior to any implementation.

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