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
"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.