Coconut palms are an introduced species in the Pacific islands, and have had a powerful effect on the ecosystems of their new homes. Recent research shows that coconut palms are the starting point for a chain of ecologically damaging changes. Seabirds avoid the trees, choosing to nest in other places instead. When the birds leave an area so does their guano—an important fertilizer for tropical soil. There can be a five- to twelvefold decline in important soil nutrients such as nitrate and phosphate when coconut palms are present, mainly because the birds aren’t there depositing nutrients to that system. Coconut palms are spreading rapidly in the region, researchers say, mostly due to conscious planting meant to encourage development. People like the plants because they provide shade, food, and raw materials for making rope and other essentials. Though the palms attract people, they have the opposite effect on other plants and animals.
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