- Nearly one-third of parrot species are threatened with extinction, and a new study concludes that current protected areas are not sufficient to protect parrot diversity, overlapping with only 10% of the geographic range of all parrot species.
- Agriculture is the main threat to parrots and is especially relevant in the Neotropics, where parrot species richness is highest.
- The northeastern Andes and southeastern Australia are highlighted as two important hotspots for parrot conservation.
- The fate of parrots is largely tied to the fate of forests, as 70% of parrots are forest-dependent. The study concludes that the future of parrots relies on policymaking in specific countries.
Parrots, with their bright colors, charisma and intelligence, are an iconic bird group. They are also at risk, globally. Nearly one-third of parrot species are threatened with extinction.
In a new study published in the journal Global Change Biology, scientists from Australian National University and the National University of Córdoba in Argentina analyzed parrots’ global conservation status, examined the effectiveness of existing protected areas to safeguard parrot biodiversity, and identified parrot conservation hotspots.
Researchers used range maps, IUCN status, population trends, habitat needs and a measure of forest dependency for all known parrot species to detect four parrot conservation hotspots: the northeastern Andes, southeastern Australia, the eastern Amazon Basin, and the island of New Guinea.
The northeastern Andes and southeastern Australia are highlighted as the two most important hotspots for parrot conservation.
“The current situation of these areas is not reassuring,” the paper says. “They had high deforestation rates during the last decades and have a worrying future under problematic conservation policies.”
The scientists also used global maps of timber extraction to predict where parrots are at high risk from habitat loss. The northwestern Amazon and western New Guinea, they predict, will “suffer very high rates of timber extraction by 2050.”
The study concludes that the current extent of protected areas is not sufficient to protect parrot diversity. On average, protected areas overlap with only 10% of the geographic range of all parrot species. Protected areas play a critical role in conserving biodiversity, but many have been created without assessing species distributions or ecological needs of specific animal or plant groups.
“We further showed the most threatened group of parrots is the least represented in protected areas globally and also locally in each region,” said study co-author Javier Nori, a spatial ecologist at the National University of Córdoba. “This is an additional proof of the inefficiency of protected areas in safeguarding global bird diversity.”
Of the 398 known species of parrots, 18 are critically endangered, 39 are endangered, and 55 are vulnerable, according to the IUCN Red List.
Threats to parrots vary worldwide. Invasive species have encroached on parrots in the Pacific Islands, where many parrots are endemic. Poaching for the pet trade, habitat loss and logging are ubiquitous global threats.
“In a previous global evaluation of parrots with scientists from BirdLife International we showed that they are among the most threatened bird orders, with higher extinction risk than other comparable bird groups,” study co-author George Olah, from Australian National University, said in a statement.
On the whole, the fate of parrots is largely tied to the fate of forests. More than 70% of parrots are forest-dependent, relying on these ecosystems for food and tree cavities for nesting. Commercial agriculture, pastures, tree plantations and shifting cultivation, all major drivers of forest loss, are on the rise in parrot habitats.
Agriculture is the main threat to parrots, the paper says, and this threat is especially relevant in the Neotropics, the area where parrot species richness is highest.
“We predicted that agricultural expansion will have a further negative effect on the conservation status of parrots, pushing many of their species to the edge of extinction in the near future,” Nori said.
“All these results suggest that the future of parrots is subject to policymaking in specific countries,” the paper says. “The future of wild living parrots is strongly subject to the future management of highlighted parrot conservation hotspots, especially in southern Australia and the Amazon Basin. In these hotspots, decision-makers should use the flagship image of parrots as a tool for guiding conservation policies.”
Vergara‐Tabares, D. L., Cordier, J. M., Landi, M. A., Olah, G., & Nori, J. (2020). Global trends of habitat destruction and consequences for parrot conservation. Global Change Biology, 26(8), 4251-4262. doi:10.1111/gcb.15135
Banner image of a blue-and-yellow macaw (Ara ararauna) by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.
Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter@lizkimbrough_
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