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.
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
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