The islands of the world comprise a small proportion of the earth's surface (some 5%) but support a remarkable range of exceptional animals and plants with some 50,000 plant species and 15% of all mammals and birds being found on islands. In some cases they are rich reservoirs of biodiversity, in other there are relatively few, but still notable, species. Islands represent microcosms of ecological and evolutionary processes and so are scientifically important. Famous examples of this importance include the influence of the Galapagos islands on Charles Darwin's understanding of evolution, the study of genetics in the Partula snails of Polynesia and the evolutionary history of the strange faunas of the Western Indian Ocean (e.g. lemurs, giant tortoises and the dodo).
dodo, painitng by R. Gerlach
Islands are also important in human terms; waves of human colonisations have swept over some archipelagoes, while others have been
left untouched until very recently. Islands are vulnerable to disturbance,
due in part to their isolation making recolonisation
difficult, in addition island species are inherently vulnerable to extinction
due to their small ranges. Some 20% of amphibians, 25% of mammals
and 33% of birds considered to be threatened with extinction are restricted
to islands. 88% of recent (i.e. since AD1500) bird extinctions have been on
islands, 86% of reptile extinctions and 54% of amphibian extinctions. Consequently
islands have been highlighted in several prioritization programmes such as the
Global 200 ecoregions (25% of which are islands), Endemic Bird Areas (48% insular),
biodiversity hotspots (29% exclusively made up of islands), Alliance for Zero
Extinction sites (39%), 70% of coral reef hotspots. Island species may be at
particular risk due to unusual evolutionary processes, such as a tendency towards
flightlessness in many areas, which may contribute to the loss of 40% of the
birds on New Zealand in 1,000 years of human history. A large number of alien
species has been introduced to islands, and low diversity island ecosystems
appear to be particularly vulnerable to the invasion of aliens, these have led
to dramatic extinctions.
With increasing development pressures and climate change islands are now more threatened than ever before.
This website focuses on different aspects of island evolution and conservation. At present the following aspects are covered: