Skip to main content

Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds

Sprinkled across the tropical Pacific, the innumerable islands of Oceania are home to some of the most unique bird communities on the planet, and they sustain species found nowhere else on earth. Many of the birds that live in this region are endangered, however; many more have become extinct as a result of human activity, in both recent and prehistoric times.

Reconstructing the avian world in the same way archeologists re-create ancient human societies, David Steadman—a leading authority on tropical Pacific avian paleontology—has spent the past two decades in the field, digging through layers of soil in search of the bones that serve as clues to the ancient past of island bird communities. His years of indefatigable research and analysis are the foundation for Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds, a monumental study of the landbirds of tropical Pacific islands—especially those from Fiji eastward to Easter Island—and an intricate history of the patterns and processes of island biology over time. 

Using information gleaned from prehistoric specimens, Steadman reconstructs the birdlife of tropical Pacific islands as it existed before the arrival of humans and in so doing corrects the assumption that small, remote islands were unable to support rich assemblages of plants and animals. Easter Island, for example, though devoid of wildlife today, was the world’s richest seabird habitat before Polynesians arrived more than a millennium ago. The forests of less isolated islands in the Pacific likewise teemed with megapodes, rails, pigeons, parrots, kingfishers, and songbirds at first human contact. 

By synthesizing data from the distant past, Steadman hopes to inform present conservation programs. Grounded in geology, paleontology, and archeology, but biological at its core, Extinction and Biogeography of Tropical Pacific Birds is an exceptional work of unparalleled scholarship that will stimulate creative discussions of terrestrial life on oceanic islands for years to come.

480 pages | 108 halftones, 133 line drawings | 8 1/2 x 11 | © 2006

Biological Sciences: Paleobiology, Geology, and Paleontology, Tropical Biology and Conservation

Earth Sciences: Paleontology

Geography: Environmental Geography


"When I was a kid, everyone thought that the Pacific Ocean islands had never had many bird species, and that those that had been lost died at the hands of European sailors and their cats, rats and goats. This book shows how wrong we were. The islands once abounded with birds, and their extinction was almost entirely due to the Lapita people. Their ’blitzkrieg’ approach to exploiting natural resources often exterminated most of an island’s larger birds in a century or less. Steadman’s remarkable volume reveals what may have been the greatest vertebrate extinction of modern times."

Adrian Barnett | New Scientist

"Every biogeographer should read this book. To paraphrase Steadman’s words, a kick in the pants is overdue for island biogeography, which is fraught with overgeneralization based on shaky data....Steadman conjures up a tragic picture of seabirds so abundant as to facilitate human navigation to unknown islands, and of islands swarming with landbirds so abundant, tame and flightless that obtaining them for food ’may have resembled our concept of gathering more than hunting’; nothing like the sad remnants we see today. I remember on my only visit to New Zealand, walking through forests and being depressed by the silence, a result of most of the birds being extinct. Steadman shows us that this is the norm throughout the Pacific; an immense avifauna all but gone. We should do all we can to preserve the impoverished remnants."

Alan Tye | Biological Conservation

"[Steadman] provides a natural history account of tropical island bird communities in more detail and depth than ever before, and with great passion and drive. . . . Steadman’s findings will noticeably improve our knowledge on the evolutionary history of island avifaunas and beyond, and they are sure to become a milestone in the progress of island biogeography theories."

Stefan M. Klose | Ecotropica

"It is a great achievement and a valuable resource. . . . Indispensable for any biologist, archaeologist, or palaeontologist with an interest in terrestrial Oceania."

Trevor H. Worthy | EMU-Austral Ornithology

"This will be an exciting book for many audiences: ornithologists, biogeographers, ecologists, evolutionists, paleontologists, conservationists, and anyone interested in island faunas and floras. Though aiming at an academic audience, Steadman superbly captures the adventure of his 25 years of exploring remote Pacific islands. . . . With its exhaustive description of these birds and their biogeography, plus its many insights and about 1,800 references, this is surely now the authoritative work on land birds of tropical Pacific islands."

Daniel Simberloff | Auk

Table of Contents

Part I
Chapter 1. Geography and Geology
Chapter 2. Terrestrial Flora and Fauna
Chapter 3. Human History
Chapter 4. Birds Living and Dead, on Islands and in Museums
Part II
Chapter 5. Melanesia
Chapter 6. West Polynesia
Chapter 7. East Polynesia
Chapter 8. Micronesia and Remote Central Pacific Islands
Part III
Chapter 9. Megapodes
Chapter 10. Rails
Chapter 11. Pigeons and Doves
Chapter 12. Parrots
Chapter 13. Other Nonpasserine Landbirds
Chapter 14. Passerines
Chapter 15. Seabirds
Part IV
Chapter 16. Extinction
Chapter 17. Dispersal, Colonization, and Faunal Attenuation
Chapter 18. Equilibrium and Turnover
Chapter 19. Species-Area Relationships
Chapter 20. Community Ecology
Chapter 21. Conservation Biology
Chapter 22. Conclusions, and Suggestions for Future Research
Literature Cited

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press