Advanced DNA techniques shows the critical role extinct birds played in New Zealand’s ecosystem.

Extinction is a sad process, as it means the irreversible loss of a species. However, as species do not exist in a vacuum, the effects of extinction do not simply extend only to the loss of species X or Y, but ripple through a whole ecosystem. Particularly for island ecosystems, which have a limited number of species, the loss of one species can lead to ecosystem collapse.

For instance, the Hawaiian Islands suffered dramatic extinctions of bird species with the arrival of Europeans. Microscopic studies showed pollen grains adhering to the head feathers on preserved specimens of these extinct birds. Not only did we lose a large number of unique bird species, the Hawaiian ecosystem also lost many of its pollinators (Cox, 1983). The result? Dwindling numbers of many native plants.

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