Genetic analysis uncovers new parrot on the edge of extinction

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
November 23, 2010



Down to just over 100 individuals, DNA analysis has revealed one of the world's most imperiled bird species: the western ground parrot Pezoporus flaviventris.. Genetic evidence collected from museums specimens, some well-over a century old, have led scientists to "cautiously suggest" that Australia's ground parrot be split into two distinct species—the eastern and the western—and not subspecies as they are currently considered. According to the study, the ground parrot species split apart some two million years ago, around the same time as the first members of the genus Homo evolved.


An adult Western Ground Parrot photographed in Fitzgerald River National Park, Western Australia. Photo by Brent Barrett, West Australia Department of Environment and Conservation.
"The discovery has major conservation implications," Australian Wildlife Conservancy and team leader Stephen Murphy said in a press release. "The western ground parrot has declined rapidly in the last 20 years, there are now only about 110 birds surviving in the wild and most of these are confined to a single national park. It is now one of the world's rarest birds."

Nearly the entire population of western ground parrots survive in Cape Arid National Park.

"A single wildfire through the national park or an influx of introduced predators, such as cats, could rapidly push the species to extinction. There is now an urgent need to prevent further population declines and to establish insurance populations into parts of the former range," said West Australia Department of Environment and Conservation Dr Allan Burbidge.

Whereas the western ground parrot is dangerously close to extinction, the eastern ground parrot is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. Researchers are frequently discovering species through DNA analysis; such new species are referred to as 'cryptic', since they may look similar to other species but DNA proves their unique evolution.







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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (November 23, 2010).

Genetic analysis uncovers new parrot on the edge of extinction.

http://news.mongabay.com/2010/1123-hance_new_parrot.html