New data of fossil birds from El Hierro (Canary Islands): probable causes of extinction and some biogeographical considerations

Authors: J. C. RANDO

Published: Volume 49(1), June 2002. Pages 39-49.

Language: English

Keywords: Accipiter gentilis, biogeography, Canary Islands, El Hierro, extinction, fossil and Pterodroma sp.


A description of fossil birds from El Hierro (Canary Islands) is made. These bones are from Cueva de El Curascán, a volcanic tube in the Medium Volcanic Series on the Northeast of the island. Six specimens corresponding to four species have been studied. Two of these, a Petrel (Pterodroma sp.) and the Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), are extinct in the Archipelago. They also represent the first palaeontological record of both species in the Canary Islands. The taxonomic status of the Petrel is discussed, as well as the possible origin and causes of extinction of both species, which seem to be different for each one, although in either case extinction seems to have been associated to the human occupation of the island. The bones discovered, like most of the palaeornithological findings on islands, show some of the diversity changes suffered by all insular ecosystems. This fact supports the idea that biogeographical analyses could have little reliability if recent extinction records are not taken into account. These affect a high number of species and, in the case of the Canary Archipelago, like in other oceanic islands, seem to be a direct consequence of a relatively recent human colonisation.

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