New Article by Connor, S. E., Lewis, T., van Leeuwen, J. F. N., van der Knaap, W. O. (Pim), Schaefer, H., Porch, N., Gomes, A. I., Piva, S. B., Gadd, P., Kuneš, P., Haberle, S. G., Adeleye, M. A., Mariani, M., & Elias, R. B., in Biological Conservation.

Remote islands harbour many endemic species and unique ecosystems. They are also some of the world’s most human-impacted systems. It is essential to understand how island species and ecosystems behaved prior to major anthropogenic disruption as a basis for their conservation. This research aims to reconstruct the original, pre-colonial biodiversity of a remote oceanic island to understand the scale of past extinctions, vegetation changes and biodiversity knowledge gaps.

We studied fossil remains from the North Atlantic island of Corvo (Azores), including pollen, charcoal, plant macrofossils, diatoms and geochemistry of wetland sediments from the central crater of the island, Caldeirão. A comprehensive list of current vascular plant species was compiled, along with a translation table comparing fossilized pollen to plant species and a framework for identifying extinctions and misclassifications.

Pollen and macrofossils provide evidence for eight local extinctions from the island’s flora and show that four species listed as ‘introduced’ are native. Up to 23 % of the pollen taxa represent extinct/misclassified species. Corvo’s past environment was dynamic, shifting from glacial-era open vegetation to various Holocene forest communities, then almost completely deforested by fires, erosion and grazing following Portuguese colonisation. Historical human impacts explain high ecological turnover, several unrecorded extinctions and the present-day abundance of vegetation types like Sphagnum blanket mire.

We use Corvo as a case study on how fossil inventories can address the Wallacean and Hookerian biodiversity knowledge gaps on remote islands. Accurate baselines allow stakeholders to make informed conservation decisions using limited financial and human resources, particularly on islands where profound anthropogenic disruption occurred before comprehensive ecological research.

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