Juan Fernández Firecrown
Protect critically endangered species
As part of an ongoing conservation program focused on the critically endangered Juan Fernández Firecrown (Sephanoides fernandensis), we are currently focusing on the following objectives:
- Invasive plant control in the established Plazoleta del Yunque study area
- Population monitoring using newly established protocols
- Create a citizen science program to compliment population monitoring
- Develop a regular program of cat control in town in cooperation with residents
The hummingbird community of Robinson Crusoe includes two species: the endemic Juan Fernández firecrown (Sephanoides fernandensis) and the Chilean native green-backed firecrown (Sephanoides sephaniodes). These hummingbird species are the only two known to reside on oceanic islands (1). The endemic Juan Fernández firecrown is found only on Isla Robinson Crusoe and is seasonally a highly visible species in the town of San Juan Bautista. However, the species has a restricted breeding range, apparently depending exclusively on intact native forest for breeding.
Native forest on the island declined historically in both its extent and its abundance due to harvesting, clearing and burning. Although fully protected now, the remnant native forest is currently threatened by invasive plant species such as maqui (Aristotelia chilensis) and elm-leaf blackberry (Rubus ulmifolius). Given their dependence on intact forest for breeding, the alteration of forest structure and composition by invasive species is a primary conservation concern for the species. Although the population was recently thought to be as low as 400 individuals, based on our recent surveys it now appears that the population numbers approximately 2,000-3,000 individuals. However, the impacts of invasive species and predation by non-native mammals remain major threats to the long-term survival of the Juan Fernández firecrown.
The Juan Fernández firecrown may also serve as an indicator species – research efforts are aimed at understanding how changes in habitat (replacement of important native flora used for foraging and nesting by introduced flora) and local fauna (introduced predators, possible competitors) affect the endemic hummingbird and signal decay of the local forest ecosystem.
We currently conduct and support collaborative research and conservation projects focused on the Juan Fernández firecrown. Erin Hagen and Maria Victoria López-Calleja are leading much of our research program, focusing on the following objectives:
- breeding biology, including determination of critical breeding habitat
- effects of invasive plants on habitat usage and breeding distribution of firecrowns
- foraging ecology
- population size and trends
- threats posed by non-native mammals
- habitat use patterns
In addition, Federico Johow (Aves Chile, CODEFF) and an island resident, Sara de Rodt, have been monitoring firecrown nests during the breeding season. We have also supported a community cat spay/neuter program initiated in 2002. We are coordinating efforts to protect prime firecrown breeding habitat on Robinson Crusoe. See section below on Firecrown habitat restoration.
(1) Colwell, R.K. 1989. Ibis 131:548-566.
Firecrown Habitat Restoration
The Juan Fernández firecrown requires intact native forest in order to breed. Due to the massive loss of forest historically due to harvesting, clearing and burning, breeding habitat for the firecrown has been correspondingly reduced. Although all native forest is now fully protected, it remains threatened by non-native plant species which are successfully invading and altering the structure and composition of the forests. Given these threats, conserving existing native forest is an extremely high priority, not only for the firecrown but also for the endemic plant species dependent on native forest structure.
Since 2004 we have been conducting invasive plant control in a sector of forest, Plazoleta del Yunque, that is critical breeding habitat for the Juan Fernández firecrown. The work has focused on removing two aggressively invasive plant species, maqui Aristotelia chilensis and elm-leaf blackberry Rubus ulmifolius, focusing initially on areas in and around forest clearings. Firecrowns appear to prefer nesting on the edge of forest clearings that are free from invasive species and, thus, maintaining these areas free of maqui and blackberry is a high priority.
- Dr. Maria Victoria Lopez-Calleja, Universidad Catolica
- Dr. Cristián Estades, Universidad de Chile
- Coral Wolf, University of Michigan
Funders and Collaborators
Our conservation goals for the recovery of the critically endangered Juan Fernández Firecrown are supported by the generous donations of our supporters and funding from the following organizations, without whom none of this would be possible: