Late last year, a small dot of fresh land emerged from the sea following a long series of lava flows. Located about 600 miles south of Tokyo, Japan, the new island, part of a larger structure named Nishinoshima, is part of the ecologically rich Ogasawara island chain. These events provide a rare opportunity for biologists to study–firsthand and in real time–how mature “climax communities” arise from new habitat.
Originally called Niijima (or “new island’), the formation eventually merged with Nishinoshima last December. The newly-born Nishinoshima, at less than a single square mile, is presently little more than than a huge rock. Over time, however, the tiny island is expected to undergo dramatic biotic and abiotic transformation (albeit a very slow one) as ecological succession progresses. It is presumed that seabirds will develop soils as they deposit feces, vomit, feathers and carcasses. Both birds and ocean and wind currents will serve as vectors, bringing small plant and animal invaders to the island.
Future growth rates of the formation cannot be accurately calculated at this time, as the lava deposition continues; no one is sure when the lava flow will stop, or whether it will keep pace with erosion occurring at the island’s margins. But, researchers have already begun to take measures to ensure that the site remains uncontaminated by humans. It is presently being observed by air only. When the time comes to study the area up close, biologists will use only sterilized or brand new field equipment.
If successfully isolated and monitored, Nishinoshima will provide a valuable glimpse into the processes of habitat development and ecological succession for years and perhaps centuries.
For more information about this new island, please visit: http://www.volcano.si.edu/volcano.cfm?vn=284096.