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Nature Longs for Lost Woodpecker

By Pilar Franco*

Every living species represents a library-full of knowledge, and the extinction of a type of bird, for example, means the disappearance of biological knowledge that will never be recovered.

MEXICO CITY - With their pointed beaks pounding the bark of trees, the woodpeckers of the planet inspired the creation of the famous Woody Woodpecker. But in the natural world this bird is much more than a cartoon character.

In Mexico, the imperial woodpecker, one of the more than 200 woodpecker species worldwide, became extinct more than five decades ago.

The example of the imperial woodpecker is cited by environmentalists who fear that dozens of other bird species are in danger of meeting the same fate.

"Imagine that each animal species is like a screw in an airplane. Then you can understand the disastrous consequences for the Earth's ecosystems when there is a chain of extinctions of animal populations," biologist Juan Carlos Cantú, program director for the non-governmental U.S.-based Defenders of Wildlife, told Tierramérica.

The ornate hawk eagle (Spizaetus ornatus), quetzal (Pharomachrus mocino), bald eagle (Haliaetus leucocephalus), harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja), tufted jay (Cyanocorax Cyanocorax) and the Sierra Madre sparrow (Xenospiza baileyi) are just some of the bird species in danger of extinction in Mexico.

Every living species represents "a library-full of knowledge, and extinction means the disappearance of biological knowledge that will never be recovered."

The extinction a half-century ago of the imperial woodpecker (Campephilus campephilus), a species endemic to the pine and holm oak forests of Jalisco and Chihuahua states, is a clear illustration of interdependence in the survival of animal life, said the expert.

"Because of its relatively large size, the imperial woodpecker needed a habitat with tall trees. But indiscriminate logging and hunting decimated the population to the point that the species disappeared," Cantú explained.

"An additional problem was that the imperial woodpeckers' nests were used by the sierra parrot (Rhynchopsitta Rhynchopsitta), a species that is now also endangered," he said.

"In the complex ecological phenomena there are plant species that follow bird species in a process of co-evolution. For example, there is a type of flower that only one species of hummingbird can extract the nectar from, and carry pollen from flower to flower," noted Cantú.

Most of the ecological processes that occur in each ecosystem are intertwined and involve a seemingly endless number of plant and animal species. "Therefore, the disappearance of a species is like the first domino falling," he said.

* Pilar Franco is a Tierramérica contributing writer.

Copyright © 2003 Tierramérica. Todos los Derechos Reservados


External Links

Defenders of Wildlife

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Imperial Woodpecker - profile

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