Mosquito ‘birth control’ could save Hawaii’s iconic honeycreepers

Honeycreepers are a diverse group of birds found only in the forests of the Hawaii Islands, where they thrived for millions of years. But now, some species may disappear within the decade thanks to a growing threat: avian malaria.

Honeycreepers have had a rough time for the past couple of hundred years, with human settlers bringing habitat destruction and invasive predators like marauding mongooses. But their biggest threat yet is avian malaria, a disease carried by invasive mosquitoes. The disease, highly deadly to many of the island’s remaining 17 species of honeycreeper, is spreading fast as climate change warms high elevation forests that were once too cool for mosquitoes to flourish. It could cause at least four species to go extinct in the next 10 years.

To save them, conservationists are pinning their hopes on a type of mosquito birth control, reports Scientific American. The method, called the “incompatible insect technique,” introduces male mosquitos with a unique strain of gut bacteria into the local population; when mosquitoes with different strainstry to mate, they can’t reproduce.

Starting in November, researchers are planning to parachute millions of these mosquitos onto the island of Maui, where two of the most endangered honeycreeper species live. If their plan pays off—and the males are unable to reproduce with local females—they hope this will crash the mosquito population in time to save honeycreepers from extinction.