A Wildlife Climate Refugee
Island scrub jays, a smart, gregarious bird that lives only on Santa Cruz Island off the California coast, has been hit hard through the years. They've survived habitat loss, invasive species -- including pigs and goats, and more recently plagues of Argentine ants. But now they might face the biggest challenge of all, climate change.
Climate change has brought West Nile carrying mosquitoes to their doorstep. Drought, fire, bark beetle and sea level rise are coalescing into a catastrophe for the birds, whose numbers already number at just a few thousand. Being landlocked on a small island make these birds a harbinger for other systems, a natural experiment, though one with high stakes for the birds.
Teams of researchers from The Nature Conservancy, Smithsonian and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have been studying the birds, and may have found a safeguard. Nearby Santa Rosa Island exists in a cooler marine climate than Santa Cruz, and used to call island scrub jays a native resident. The birds were extirpated years ago, and the safe haven has its own challenges, including severely degraded habitat. The birds, though, are ecosystem engineers, forest builders if you will, so could we save an island and the scrub jay in one go?