Carmen Antaky Visits Vertebrate Zoology
Carmen Antaky, a Masters student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, visited the Vertebrate Zoology (VZ) collection to take some samples from our avian specimens for her project. She is studying the Hawaiian Band-rumped storm petrel (Oceanodroma castro), which is a small, endangered seabird. Many thanks to Carmen for agreeing to answer a few questions so that we can learn more about her exciting research!
Can you briefly describe the project you’re working on to earn your degree?
With only a few hundred individuals remaining, the Hawaiian Band-rumped Storm Petrel populations have problems normally associated with small numbers, including demographic stochasticity (unpredictable fluctuations in environmental conditions) and inbreeding. Genetic diversity and connectivity among populations promote the ability of species to respond and adapt to future pressures. Population health, inter-island connectivity, and the potential establishment of novel colonies have yet to be addressed. As a first step in assessing the vulnerability of the remaining populations to a changing environment, my research evaluates patterns in genetic diversity among individuals across the Hawaiian islands.
What types of samples did you take from the VZ collection and how will they further your research?
I took toe-pad, tissue, and feather samples from O. castro specimens in the VZ collection. Specimens came from Kauai, Hawai’i, and Maui with some even dating back to the 1800s. My study is the first to look at the genetic diversity of O. castro within the Hawaiian Islands, making samples from the Bishop Museum highly valuable. Due to low population sizes, wild sampling is limited and only possible on known Kauai and Hawai’i island populations. Furthermore, the Bishop Museum samples will expand sampling range to the O. castro Maui population as well as add historical knowledge to benefit science and the future conservation of this endangered species.
You’ve worked with these birds in the wild. Can you describe some of your experiences and what makes this species interesting to you? Why did you choose these birds as a topic for research?
I am fascinated by the complex life history strategies of seabirds and their ecological and cultural importance to the Hawaiian Islands. Additionally, O. castro is one of the rarest, smallest, and unknown seabirds on the Hawaiian Islands. My research gives me the unique opportunity to ask novel questions and unveil the secrets of this extremely enigmatic species. Due to their low population numbers and remote locations, only two active nests have been confirmed. Fortunately this summer, I got to opportunity to access their remote colonies on Kauai and Hawai’i island. Some highlights include joining Makalani, a search-trained Springer Spaniel aka conservation canine hero, who detected the two confirmed nests in the expansive fields of lava on Mauna Loa. During my time on the Big Island, Makalani found two more potential burrows as well as more O. castro feathers which I am using in my genetic analysis. I hope my research on this mysterious species helps increase capacity for effectively managing O. castro across the Hawaiian Islands.
The Band-rumped storm petrel is endangered in Hawaii. What are some of the factors threatening its survival? How can the general public help?
Once widespread on all the Main Hawaiian Islands, the range of the Band-rumped storm petrel is now restricted to small pockets on high elevation steep surfaces that are better protected from predator threat and light pollution. Like most seabirds, with the arrival of humans and introduced predators such as rats, cats, and mongoose on the Hawaiian islands, O. castro lost a substantial portion of its colonies. Additionally, as seabirds navigate by the moon and stars, artificial lights disorient them and cause them to fall to the ground making them vulnerable to predators, dehydration, or starvation. Furthermore, marine debris harms ocean life as plastics are persistently found accumulating in the intestinal tracts of seabirds. To help at a personal level, one can limit their use of single-use plastics, turn off lights at night to limit fallout during the summer breeding season, and support environmental legislation, like the statewide styrofoam ban.