The struggle for survival between endemic and introduced species in Gough Island, U.K.
The battle between endemic and introduced species has reached a new pitch in Gough Island in the United Kingdom.
Gough Island is home to the world’s only population of Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena and several other critically endangered species such as the Gough Bunting Rowettia goughensis. According to research by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the U.K. arm of BirdLife International), introduced predatory mice are feeding on albatross chicks here, greatly reducing their survival rate. Studies of the island’s bunting population reveal that their numbers have halved within the last two decades, due to the increasing population of mice. It is estimated that only 400 to 500 pairs of buntings remain.
“We’ve known for a long time that the mice were killing albatross chicks in huge numbers. However, we now know that the albatrosses have suffered their worst year on record,” said Richard Cuthbert, a RSPB scientist who has been researching the mouse problem on Gough Island since 2000. His words are backed by a survey in January 2009, which revealed that only 1,764 adult albatrosses incubated eggs this year and just 246 chicks survived.
John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme explains that commercial fishing along the coastlines exacerbates the problem as adult and juvenile birds are often killed by longline fishing vessels. Although the U.K.’s House of Commons Committee has recognised the severity of the situation and called for effective action, scientists say the government is sluggish in its response. The RSPB’s trials on the possible removal of the mice look promising. According to a paper published by BirdLife, ‘Critically Endangered Birds: A Global Audit’, the culling of rodent populations on seabird islands has been successful in the past.