The Role of Seabirds in Hawaiian Subsistence: Implications for Interpreting Avian Extinction and Extirpation in Polynesia

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ISSN: 1535-8283

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Moniz, Jadelyn J.
Avian Extinction and Extirpation; Zooarchaeology; Hawai'i; Polynesia
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The extinction of Hawaiian birds has been of interest to many archaeologists and paleontologists. The present subfossil evidence indicates that humans affected the abundance of these birds either through predation or habitat alteration. Land birds have heretofore been the primary focus in discussing the extinction process. The bones of seabirds, however, generally dominate archaeological assemblages. Analyses of avifaunal assemblages from two sites (Kuli'ou'ou on the island of O'ahu and South Point on the island of Hawai'i) support the argument that if we want to understand the relationship between human colonization, subsistence, and extinction (or extirpation), then seabirds are an important resource. Because of their large population sizes, wide distribution, and reproductive susceptibility to predators, seabirds are important indicators of the impact human settlement has on the native fauna. I have identified at least four seabird species previously unknown to have bred historically on the islands, in addition to a possible extinct petrel. This suggests that the distribution of these species was much wider than previously thought and the introduction of predators may have had an effect on the occurrence of these bird colonies. Keywords: Avian Extinction and Extirpation, Zooarchaeology, Hawai'i, Polynesia.