Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Oregon
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Chen, S., Z. Fan, D.D. Roby, Y. Lu, C. Chen, Q. Huang, L. Cheng, and J. Zhu. 2015. Human harvest, climate change and their synergistic effects drove the Chinese Crested Tern to the brink of extinction. Global Ecology and Conservation 4:137-145.


Synergistic effect refers to simultaneous actions of separate factors which have a greater total effect than the sum of the individual factor effects. However, there has been a limited knowledge on how synergistic effects occur and individual roles of different drivers are not often considered. Therefore, it becomes quite challenging to manage multiple threatening processes simultaneously in order to mitigate biodiversity loss. In this regard, our hypothesis is, if the traits actually play different roles in the synergistic interaction, conservation efforts could be made more effectively. To understand the synergistic effect and test our hypothesis, we examined the processes associated with the endangerment of critically endangered Chinese Crested Tern (Thalasseus bernsteini), whose total population number was estimated no more than 50. Through monitoring of breeding colonies and investigations into causative factors, combined with other data on human activities, we found that widespread human harvest of seabird eggs and increasing frequency of typhoons are the major factors that threatened the Chinese Crested Tern. Furthermore, 28 percent of breeding failures were due to the synergistic effects in which egg harvestinduced renestings suffered the higher frequent typhoons. In such combined interactions, the egg harvest has clearly served as a proximal factor for the population decline, and the superimposition of enhanced typhoon activity further accelerated the species toward imminent extinction. Our findings suggest that species endangerment, on one hand, should be treated as a synergistic process, while conservation efforts, on the other hand, should focus principally on combatting the threat that triggers synergistic effects.