Wildlife & Habitat

Red soldier fish

Cats, rats, goats, and mice brought by human settlers modified the habitat at Jarvis Island for terrestrial wildlife, and by 1966 the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program found only three species of seabirds breeding on the island.

  • Birds

    Sooty terns

    Jarvis supports 14 species of breeding seabirds, making it second only to Kiritimati Island in the number of species surviving on islands in the Line archipelago. Its sooty tern colony is one of the largest in the world, with an estimated 1 million terns using the island.

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  • Mammals

    Bottlenose Dolphin 150x90

     Very little information is available on marine mammal populations in the vicinity of Jarvis. However, on most visits to Jarvis Island, a group of approximately 40 bottle-nosed dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) appears as the ship approaches the island. Formal quantitative surveys of marine mammal distribution and abundance have not been undertaken at Jarvis.


  • Reptiles

    Mourning Gecko

    Only one species of terrestrial reptile has been reported from Jarvis Island, a gecko, most likely the mourning gecko (Lepidodactylus lugubris). This species was documented in the stomach of a cat at Jarvis (Kirkpatrick and Rauzon, 1986) and may have served as alternate prey for cats when they were present on JarvisIsland.


  • Fish

    Yellow hawkfish

    A total of 252 fish species have been recorded at Jarvis Island. Densities of large fish (e.g., sharks, jacks, grouper, and parrotfish) are second only to those at Palmyra Atoll. Large numbers of manta rays are found off the southeast terrace, and sea turtles are also abundant. At least nine species of algae have been collected at Jarvis, including four species of green algae (mostly Halimeda), two of brown algae (mostly Lobophora), and three of red algae (mostly crustose coralline). Jarvis supported the largest biomass of fish compared to any other areas. However, surveys in 2008 reported declines.

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  • Invertebrates

    Hermit crab

     Jarvis Island is home to a large number of the Strawberry Hermit Crab, Coenobita perlatus. Their large biomass plays a dominant role in terrestrial food webs on the island where they consume awide variety of organic matter of all types. Other terrestrial arthropods and mollusks are very poorly known. Recent observations, but not collections, during visits by Service biologists include house flies, small ants, moths and millers, butterflies, and spiders. Kirkpatrick and Rauzon (1986) compared food habits of feral cats at Howland and Jarvis Islands and while there were crickets, cockroaches and Tenebrionid beetles in the stomach of Jarvis cats (n=73), no insect remains were found in a smaller sample (n=5) of Howland Islandcats.


  • Marine Habitat

    Mantas at Jarvis

     Jarvis Island’s shallow marine benthic habitats consist of fringing reef crests, shallow back reefs, steep fore reefs, spurs-and-grooves, and small reef terraces, the last two habitats are restricted to the windward (east side) of the island.  In addition, shallow short channels may have been blasted through the narrow fringing reef during the pre-World War II era to facilitate small boat access between the shoreline and ocean off the south and west sides of the island.  The deep slope habitats below depths of 60 feet have not been surveyed by divers, although remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) have been launched to collect video and camera based data. Pelagic habitats occur further offshore beyond the influence of upwelling and nearshore oceanographic processes. Nearshore habitats include distinct upwelling zones off the west side of the island and oligotrophic waters off the windward reefs.  The PIFSC has conducted oceanographic research off the island to contrast the difference between nutrient rich upwelling zones and the ambient nutrient poor ocean conditions outside areas of upwellingcurrents.

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  • Island Habitat

    Jarvis Island

     Jarvis Island is vegetated with grasses, herbaceous plants, and shrubs.  Only strand species able to survive long periods of drought and irregular opportunities to reproduce during the infrequent wet years of the ENSO persist here. By 1924 when Christophersen (1927) did the first thorough survey of Jarvis Island’s vegetation, there had already been approximately a century of visits by Europeans and guano miners. Despite this traffic and the potential for introductions, Christophersen found a very depauperate flora consisting of 6 native species (Lepturus repens, Eragrostis whitneyi, Sesuvium portulacastrum, Boerhavia tetrandra, Portulaca lutea, Tribulus cistoides. Other plants currently surviving such as Abutifolium indicum, and Sida fallax were most likely accidentally introduced by the guano miners. Still other plants were purposefully introduced through the years, perhaps even repeatedly, but do not persist. (see Appendix B).  On a short visit in 2004, only 7 species of plants were located (Rauzon and Wegmann 2004). It is likely that seeds of additional species are regularly washing up on the beach and then dying back as conditions become too dry or high surf washes the plant away.

    The structure of the plant community is grassland and low herbaceous cover. The Sida and Abutilon in the interior serve as important nesting and roosting habitat for the red-footed booby and cover for wintering bristle-thighed curlews. Great frigatebirds and white terns also prefer to nest above the ground on the few shrubs available, but all the other species nest directly on the ground. Shrubs and rock piles also provide shade and daytime cover for the numerous land hermit crabs, Coenobita perlatus that inhabit JarvisIsland.

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