Vanuatu and Temotu

Country/Territory Solomon Islands,Vanuatu
Area 13,000 km2
Altitude 0 - 1800m
Priority high
Habitat loss moderate
Knowledge poor

General characteristics

This EBA includes the Santa Cruz Islands of Temotu province of the Solomon Islands, and the more southerly Torres, Banks and New Hebrides Islands which constitute the political unit of Vanuatu. The land reaches 1,879 m at Mt Tabwemasana on Espiritu Santo and is mostly volcanic in origin. There is still much volcanic activity: Ambrym, for example, suffered extensive new lava flows in 1988.

The characteristic vegetation is lowland and montane rain forest; closed conifer forest (dominated by the kauri Agathis) is restricted to the western parts of Espiritu Santo, Erromango (which has, or had, the finest remaining stands: Marshall 1973), Anatom and the Santa Cruz Islands. Cloud forest is present on Espiritu Santo and the southern islands, and scattered mangrove forests occur on some islands (Dahl 1980, Davis et al. 1986), with those on Malakula being particularly extensive; there are also many freshwater lakes (including Lake Letas on Gaua-one of the largest natural freshwater lakes in the South Pacific) and brackish water and seawater lagoons which are important for resident and migratory birds (H. Bregulla in litt. 1993; see also Scott 1993).

Cyclones, earthquakes and associated flooding affect this region. On average, any given area of Vanuatu is struck full-force by a cyclone once in c.30 years, and at such times damage to the forests is enormous (Bregulla 1992); for example, in January 1993 all houses on the Santa Cruz Islands were flattened and as much as 30% of forested areas may have been damaged (T. Leary in litt. 1993).

Restricted-range species

This EBA lies a faunal crossroads, with the more widespread of its restricted-range bird species having ranges which extend to other Melanesian EBAs: either north to the Solomon Islands (EBAs 198, 199), south to New Caledonia (EBA 201), or in a few cases in both directions; a couple of species also occur eastwards into Central Polynesian EBAs (202, 203).

All the restricted-range species occur in forest and some appear to tolerate partly cleared forest, secondary growth and gardens, perhaps because of adaptation to a cyclone-prone environment. Some species are only found in the highlands or mountains of the larger islands, notably Aplonis santovestris, which only occurs above 1,000 m, being confined to the small areas of cloud forest which cover the highest peaks on Espirutu Santo.

Distributional patterns within the EBA vary, although most species occur widely in the archipelago with some gaps along the chain of islands. The distribution of Charmosyna palmarum, for example, has fluctuated over the last century (in the 1930s it was found on several southern islands but had disappeared from them by the 1960s), perhaps owing to the effects of cyclones (Bregulla 1992).

There are few data on the three Temotu endemics, Mayrornis schistaceus (confined to the island of Vanikoro) and Woodfordia lacertosa and Zosterops sanctaecrucis (Nendo only) (but see Gibbs 1996b).

Species IUCN Category
Vanuatu Scrubfowl (Megapodius layardi) VU
Santa Cruz Ground-dove (Alopecoenas sanctaecrucis) EN
Vanuatu Imperial-pigeon (Ducula bakeri) VU
Tanna Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus tannensis) LC
Red-bellied Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus greyi) LC
Pied Goshawk (Accipiter albogularis) LC
Vanuatu Kingfisher (Todiramphus farquhari) NT
Palm Lorikeet (Charmosyna palmarum) VU
Grey-eared Honeyeater (Lichmera incana) LC
Cardinal Myzomela (Myzomela cardinalis) LC
Vanuatu Honeyeater (Gliciphila notabilis) LC
(Gerygone flavolateralis) NR
(Coracina caledonica) NR
Polynesian Triller (Lalage maculosa) LC
Long-tailed Triller (Lalage leucopyga) LC
(Rhipidura verreauxi) NR
Melanesian Flycatcher (Myiagra caledonica) LC
Vanikoro Flycatcher (Myiagra vanikorensis) LC
Buff-bellied Monarch (Neolalage banksiana) LC
Vanikoro Monarch (Mayrornis schistaceus) VU
Southern Shrikebill (Clytorhynchus pachycephaloides) LC
(Clytorhynchus nigrogularis) NR
(Megalurulus whitneyi) NR
Vanuatu White-eye (Zosterops flavifrons) LC
Sanford's White-eye (Zosterops lacertosus) NT
Santa Cruz White-eye (Zosterops sanctaecrucis) LC
Rusty-winged Starling (Aplonis zelandica) NT
Mountain Starling (Aplonis santovestris) EN
Polynesian Starling (Aplonis tabuensis) LC
(Erythrura regia) NR

Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
IBA Code Site Name Country
Loru Vanuatu
Neck of Malakula - Crab Bay Vanuatu
Nendö Solomon Islands
Vanikoro Solomon Islands
Vatthe Vanuatu
West Malo Vanuatu
VA001 Vanua Lava, Mount Sereama Vanuatu
VA002 Gaua Vanuatu
VA003 Santo Mountain Chain Vanuatu
VA005 Ambae Vanuatu
VA006 Ambrym West Vanuatu
VA007 Tongoa and Ambae Vanuatu
VA009 Tongoa - Laika Vanuatu

Threat and conservation

Although most agricultural activity in this EBA is for the production of subsistence food crops, and is typically carried out on the slash-and-burn pattern, there is a growing emphasis on the production of cash crops. Some areas have been cleared for plantations and pastures, particularly on the plateaus of Espiritu Santo and Efate, and all remaining lowland forests are under great pressure from logging companies. The kauri forest on the Santa Cruz Islands has been subject almost throughout to selective logging.

Though the species of this EBA are in no immediate great danger, the status of some may be considered precarious. For example, those birds found on only a few islands and largely dependent on undisturbed forest (e.g. Gallicolumba sanctaecrucis, Todirhamphus farquhari) are likely to have small populations which are declining as a result of habitat loss, and these are consequently classified as threatened.

Megapodius layardi is one species which is particularly likely to be sensitive to change: although still common, its nesting sites and forest habitat are being destroyed by encroaching agriculture and other development and, while eggs have been collected (from the more accessible sites) as food by village people for centuries with little detrimental effect, any increase in the human population and their mobility may result in over-harvesting (Bregulla 1992). Tebi Beach on the north-west coast of Ambrym is an important nesting area for this species, but a recent survey of egg collectors from 19 villages in the region indicated that its range and numbers have decreased there quite significantly (Bowen 1996).

Another species which is considered threatened is Aplonis santovestris. This bird has a tiny range in Espiritu Santo, with records only from 1934, 1961 and 1991 in the Mt Tabwemasana and nearby Peak Santo areas (Reside 1991, Bregulla 1992)—although it may occur more widely than these records suggest as this region is rarely visited by ornithologists.

There have been problems in the past in establishing protected areas on Vanuatu owing to a general failure to address the complex issues associated with custom land rights. However, there have been several recent successful conservation initiatives. One example is the Loru Terrestrial Nature Reserve on Espiritu Santo, officially launched in 1995 and covering c.2 km2 of primary lowland forest near the village of Kole One; it is recognized by provincial and national governments but run by a village-level committee (Bowen 1995, 1997). The Erromango Kauri Reserve has also been officially launched with the signing of a lease agreement (Tacconi and Bennett 1994, L. Tacconi verbally 1995), and a further five areas on Malekula have been proposed for protection (Tacconi 1995). The Big Bay forests on the east coast of Espiritu Santo are the subject of a conservation project, having been identified as important for wildlife (Maturin 1994, Close 1995); lying on the alluvial floodplain of rivers draining the Mt Tabwemasana range, this region is the EBA's largest remaining intact area of lowland forest.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Endemic Bird Areas factsheet: Vanuatu and Temotu. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 24/11/2020.