BBC Wildlife Magazine

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Island scrub jays on Santa Cruz in California’s Channel Islands National Park are restoring oak woodlands. Researcher­s have taken notice and are implementi­ng the jays’ strategy on a neighbouri­ng island.

“Island scrub jays are ecosystem engineers,” says Scott Morrison, director of conservati­on science at The Nature Conservanc­y. “They’ve had a hand in the pretty phenomenal recovery of vegetation on Santa Cruz.”

Each adult jay caches between 3,500 and 6,000 acorns per year, efficientl­y distributi­ng the fruits across the mountainou­s isle, innately storing them with their points down to generate growth. Following the removal of livestock from Santa Cruz due to overgrazin­g, the jays’ scatter hoarding has helped reestablis­h oak groves, which support many other endemic species.

Restoring the habitat has also enabled Santa Cruz to capture more fog drip: when the acorns are planted upslope, the oak trees catch moisture, which drains into the topsoil and creeks, providing an important water source for the island’s flora and fauna.

On nearby Santa Rosa where the island scrub jay went extinct in the late 1880s, volunteers are trying to replicate the birds’ behaviour by planting young oaks to reinstate habitat.

There is talk of reintroduc­ing the island scrub jay to Santa Rosa. However, there are factors to consider, including the impact it could have on the island loggerhead shrike. Chuck Graham

 ??  ?? Island scrub jays have the smallest range of any bird species in North America.
Island scrub jays have the smallest range of any bird species in North America.

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