Humans to Blame for Extinction of Only Parrot Native to U.S., Study Finds
The Carolina parakeet, the only parrot species native to the U.S., went extinct in 1918 when the last bird died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Now, a little more than 100 years later, researchers have determined that humans were entirely to blame.
How? Researchers sequenced the bird's genome and found none of the signs of inbreeding or population decline that usually mark an endangered species' slow road to extinction.
"As such, our results suggest its extinction was an abrupt process and thus likely solely attributable to human causes," the study, published in Current Biology Thursday, concluded.
📕 Researchers from @IBE_Barcelona and #globeinstitute led by Carles Lalueza-Fox have reconstructed the complete gen… https://t.co/XTY180KDxS— IBE (CSIC-UPF) (@IBE (CSIC-UPF))1576166705.0
The Carolina parakeet once ranged from New England in the North to Florida in the South to Colorado in the West, according to National Geographic. But the bright green, orange and yellow birds were killed by farmers as pests and by hunters for their feathers, which were popular in hats. They also tended to flock around dead comrades, making them more vulnerable to attack. Tree clearing for agriculture also threatened their survival. As early as 1832, American naturalist John James Audubon observed that their numbers were decreasing, BBC News explained.
But until now scientists were unsure that humans were entirely to blame for their extinction, National Geographic noted. They thought natural disasters could have divided populations from each other, or that diseases caught from poultry could have played a role.
Scientists put those suspicions to rest by sequencing the genome of a preserved parakeet found in a private collection in Ginora, Spain. To fill in the gaps, they first sequenced the genome of the South American sun parakeet, a close living relative.
Study co-author Carles Lalueza-Fox, from Barcelona's Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), explained to BBC News why the results pointed to human-caused extinction. If a population shrinks and declines slowly, the chromosomes from the specimen's mother and father will be very similar or identical. The chromosomes of the Carolina parakeet specimen were distinct, suggesting it belonged to a larger population.
"The inference is that this bird was not subjected to a very long demographic decline for thousands of years, it was something very quick," Lalueza-Fox told BBC News.
Further, the scientists found no evidence of any poultry disease in the genome, National Geographic reported.
The study was the work of the Globe Institute at the University of Copenhagen and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), which brings together UPF and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) in Barcelona, according to a UPF press release published by Phys.org.
The study was partly conducted because there is interest in seeing if it would be possible to bring the Carolina parakeet back from extinction, the IBE Twitter feed noted.
This project started in the catalan popular science programme @quequicom33, when @pererenom contacted #LaluezaFox,… https://t.co/RpqCm31dUO— IBE (CSIC-UPF) (@IBE (CSIC-UPF))1576166707.0
But Lalueza-Fox said the results showed how hard this would be.
"Despite the Carolina parakeet appears in all de-extinction lists, we found hundreds of genetic changes predicted to be deleterious with the closest living relative, the sun parakeet, which indicates the enormous difficulties of undertaking such enterprises," Lalueza-Fox said in the press release.
However, the research could help save endangered species today. Because the species went extinct during a period of rapid industrialization, understanding the process could help us save species threatened by contemporary urbanization.
"We need to get at which human activity was largely to blame and how we can prevent the same thing happening to others," Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies ecologist Kevin Burgio, who was not involved in the study, told National Geographic.
- New Zealand's Bird Biodiversity Loss Since Humans Arrived Would ... ›
- Rat Poison Linked to Several Deaths of San Francisco's Iconic Parrots ›
- Giant, Possibly Carnivorous Parrot Fossils Discovered in New ... ›
By Robin Scher
Beyond the questions surrounding the availability, effectiveness and safety of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to question where our food is coming from and whether we will have enough.
- Can Urban Farms Prevent Hunger in 54 Million People in the U.S. ... ›
- New Report Finds Malnutrition World's Top Killer Amid Pandemic ... ›
- Oxfam Warns 12,000 Could Die Per Day From Hunger Due to ... ›
- Three Ways to Support a Healthy Food System During the COVID ... ›
- Trump USDA Resumes Effort to Cut Food Stamp Benefits - EcoWatch ›
- Pandemic Threatens Food Security for Many College Students ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Tearing through the crowded streets of Philadelphia, an electric car and a gas-powered car sought to win a heated race. One that mimicked how cars are actually used. The cars had to stop at stoplights, wait for pedestrians to cross the street, and swerve in and out of the hundreds of horse-drawn buggies. That's right, horse-drawn buggies. Because this race took place in 1908. It wanted to settle once and for all which car was the superior urban vehicle. Although the gas-powered car was more powerful, the electric car was more versatile. As the cars passed over the finish line, the defeat was stunning. The 1908 Studebaker electric car won by 10 minutes. If in 1908, the electric car was clearly the better form of transportation, why don't we drive them now? Today, I'm going to answer that question by diving into the history of electric cars and what I discovered may surprise you.
As bitcoin's fortunes and prominence rise, so do concerns about its environmental impact.
- 15 Top Conservation Issues of 2021 Include Big Threats, Potential ... ›
- How Blockchain Could Boost Clean Energy - EcoWatch ›
By David Drake and Jeffrey York
The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.
The Big Idea
People often point to plunging natural gas prices as the reason U.S. coal-fired power plants have been shutting down at a faster pace in recent years. However, new research shows two other forces had a much larger effect: federal regulation and a well-funded activist campaign that launched in 2011 with the goal of ending coal power.
- Major Milestone: More than 100,000 MW Worth of Coal-Fired Power ... ›
- Coal Will Not Bring Appalachia Back to Life, But Tech and ... ›
- Renewables Beat Coal in the U.S. for the First Time This April ... ›