IUCN Red List

11 terrestrial and 65 marine species found in Samoa are listed as globally threatened on the 2009 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

However, the true number of threatened species in Samoa is much higher, perhaps in the hundreds.

The tropical rainforest of the Samoan islands are home to two unique species of bird found nowhere else on earth: the Ma’oma’o (Gymnomyza samoensis) and the Manumea or toothbilled pigeon (Didunculus strigirostris). These Samoan endemic’s survival is far from certain as both species have declined drastically in the last decade.

Both the Ma’oma’o and the Manumea are listed as endangered on the IUCN red list of globally threatened species. This means that if no action is taken to halt the decline in populations of these unique species, it is expected that they will become extinct. Although listed as endangered by the IUCN, little is known about the ecology of these species in the wild and the reasons for their decline. This means that scientists and policy makers have had little or no information on the breeding rates, food species or main predators of either bird species. Without this information, it is not possible to determine which management techniques can be used to reverse the decline of either species.

The Mao and Manumea projects aim to determine: (1) priority sites for conservation, (2) the ecology of these species in the wild and, (3) establish what factors are driving the population declines. Information from the Ma’oma’o and Manumea projects will be used to create recovery plans for these enigmatic and unique bird species.

Our Current Projects

The Ma’oma’o (Gymnomyza samoensis) is a large species of honeyeater found exclusively on the islands of Savai’i and Upolu in Samoa. Ma’oma’o can be identified most easily in the field by their distinctive calls: birds are often very vocal, with greatest activity early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Ma’oma’o make a variety of calls including duets.

The Ma'oma'o The Endangered Ma'oma'o - found only on the islands of Upolu and Savai'i in Samoa. This bird is one of the first Ma’oma’o to be caught and banded by the research team; known as blue white by her leg bands. She has also been fitted with a radio transmitter.

In appearance, the Ma’oma’o is uniformly olive-black in colour, with the exception of an olive stripe beneath the eye. It possesses a long down-curved bill, and a long tail, that it bobs while perching and moving through branches high up in the canopy.

The Ma’oma’o’s closest living relatives are the critically endangered Crow Honeyeater (Gymnomyza aubryana) of New Caledonia and the Giant forest honeyeater (Gymnomyza viridis) of Fiji. All three bird species feed primarily on the nectar of flowers in their rainforest habitats in addition to insects and fruit. Unfortunately to date, there has The Ma'oma'obeen very little research into the behaviour and ecology of any of the honeyeater species. Understanding the habits of these species is key to their conservation.

The Ma’oma’o research project aims to fill this knowledge gap. A research team is currently investigating the breeding biology of the Ma’oma’o by observing nesting behaviour, and monitoring nests for signs of predation. Preliminary results suggest that the Ma’oma’o is a slow breeder, producing only one egg per clutch and one chick per year. Holding the Ma'oma'oThe single chick is at risk of predation by introduced predators. Nest cameras set up by the research team have captured footage of a rat jumping onto the back of a nesting Ma’oma’o and eating its egg. Once it leaves the nest, the chick is dependent on its parents for an extended period of time and is a poor flier. Once fledged, it spends large amounts of time on the forest floor, leaving it vulnerable to predators like rats, cats and dogs.

In addition to observing nest behaviour, several researchers are calculating the abundance of the Ma’oma’o’s main predators, along with observing the bird’s main food source.

Manumea The Manumea (Didunculus strigirostris), also known as the Tooth-billed Pigeon is the national bird of Samoa. The Manumea is one of several species of pigeon found in Samoa, however its distinctive beak makes it difficult to confuse with any of the other species. It’s large red bill, unusually for a pigeon, is large and hooked, with two “teeth” on its lower bill. The bird’s unusual beak is probably an adaptation to its diet. A large proportion of its diet is thought to be composed of the seeds of Dysoxylum trees (relations of Mahogony). The Manumea uses its bill to saw through the woody casing that surrounds the seeds of Dysoxylum spp. Recent research has also recorded it feeding on the fruit of other tree species. Like the Ma’oma’o, very little is known about the breeding behaviour or ecology of the Manumea which is making conservation difficult for this species.

An extensive survey of Manumea populations in Samoa has been taking place. The survey aims to find potential sites for further conservation effort. Past surveys indicate a decline in population size from between 4,800 and 7,200 birds in the mid 1980s to only a few hundred in 2005-2006. Our recent surveys suggest numbers are now much lower but have found some sites where the birds still exist.

It is likely that this decline is the result of a number of factors, including habitat destruction caused by cyclones in the early 1990s resulting in greatly reduced food sources, and conversion of forest to agricultural land, hunting pressure and predation of nests and chicks and even adult birds by invasive predator species.

It is hoped that 2013 survey of the Manumea will establish a viable location for the study of the Manumea’s breeding biology and feeding behavior. We aim to capture a few birds so we can add transmitters, which will allow us to follow them and gain some idea of what there ecological requirements are and to discover the first nest for this species.

The Manumea

Did you know?

  • New species are being discovered in Samoa all the time. In 2008 three new species of freshwater fish were revealed (some new to science) and in 2009 two new butterflies were discovered.
  • Samoa has the smallest spider in the world- Patu marplesi found in the montane forests of Upolu. Fully grown this spider is only 0.43mm in size.
  • Samoa’s national bird, the Manumea, or Tooth-billed Pigeon (endangered, Didinculus strigirostris) is a scientific curiosity. Unusually for a pigeon, it has a toothed bill, leading scientists at one time to think it was related to the extinct Dodo, also a tooth-billed Pigeon. It is now very rear and restricted to mature native forest.

Predators are everywhere!