How to go extinct: lessons from the lost plants of Krakatau


  • 1

    Schmitt (1997) has also reported D. rhopalotricha and E. indica as germinating from seed bank germination trials from samples collected, respectively, from Rakata and Panjang, thus indicating that both in fact persist on the older Krakatau islands too.

Robert J. Whittaker, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Mansfield Rd, Oxford, OX1 3TB, UK.




Few data sets exist that allow measurement of long-term extinction and turnover rates for islands of the size of the three main islands of the Krakatau group. We test the reliability of previous estimates of plant species extinction and examine structure within the extinction data.


The data analysed are for the three older Krakatau islands: Rakata, Sertung and Panjang in the Sunda Strait, Indonesia.


Our analysis is based on a comprehensive database incorporating all species records for each island since recolonization began after the 1883 sterilization, plus attributes such as distribution, phylogeny, population status and dispersal mechanism for each species. We employ a combination of univariate and multi-term analyses in analysing structure, and derive Minimal Adequate Models using binary logistic analyses of variance and covariance. We compare the 1883–1934 data set with the contemporary flora as represented by (1) 1979–83 records (as used in previous analyses) and (2) 1979–94 data (original).


The improved data for the contemporary flora reduces the number of missing species by one-third. We show that a variety of estimates of extinction rate can be produced depending on what assumptions are made concerning the status of particular species groups. Structural features in the extinction data persist despite the reduction in overall numbers of losses. Losses relate to: (1) the number of islands on which a species originally occurred, (2) the primary dispersal mode, and (3) the original abundance of a species (e.g. whether it was known to have established a successful resident population, and whether it was in decline or increasing in c. 1930). The ‘best’ descriptive model employs the variables denoted under (3). A high proportion of losses comprised species introduced by people and rare or ephemeral species. Losses of ‘residents’ that had colonized naturally could largely be accounted for by reference to (1) successional loss of habitat and, to a lesser degree, (2) other habitat disturbance or loss.

Main conclusions

Previous analyses, based on a more limited data set, have significantly over-estimated extinction from the Krakatau flora. Few naturally colonizing and established species have become extinct. The findings indicate that caution is necessary in interpreting ‘headline’ island ecological rates, and in analysing and modelling such data. Examination of structural features of the data appear to be valuable both in providing ecological insights in their own right, and in enabling refinements to estimates of extinction and thus turnover.