Quantcast

Love Triangles Kill, at Least for Swift Parrots

Animals
Swift parrot. Dejan Stojanovic / ANU

Tasmania's swift parrots can't catch a break. Logging has reduced their preferred blue gum breeding habitat by a third in the past 20 years. Sugar gliders, a kind of nocturnal possum introduced in the 1800s, are gobbling up female parrots at an alarming rate. And now, The Guardian reported Tuesday, scientists have found that the skewed male-to-female ratio is changing the mating habits of the endangered species in a way that puts its survival further at risk.


As the female population has declined to the point where there is only one female for every three male parrots, the excess males have begun to bother already-paired females for sex, distracting both parents from mating and raising young. In a study published in The Journal of Animal Ecology on Monday, researchers at Australian National University (ANU) found that more than half of swift parrot nests now had babies from more than one father.

"This is remarkable for parrots because most species are monogamous," lead researcher Prof. Rob Heinsohn said in an ANU press release.

The shared parenting isn't working out for the babies, however. While equal numbers of eggs are being laid, fewer are living to leave the nest, Heinsohn told The Guardian. That's because the breeding male parrot ends up spending all his time fighting off unattached males and the female spends her time dealing with the harassment and sneaking sex with the interlopers.

"We think the females are having sex with the other males for a range of reasons, but probably the main one is just to get them off their backs," Heinsohn said in the press release.

Both parents have less time, then, to gather food for their offspring.

"Although most population decline was directly attributable to sugar gliders killing nesting females, the impact of conflict and lower success from shared mating reduced the population by a further five percent," Heinsohn said in the press release.

The researchers calculated that if the lowest observed rate of shared paternity persisted for three generations, the birds' population would decline by 89.4 percent.

Sugar gliders are an especial threat to female parrots because they can enter hollow nests and kill females while they are incubating their eggs there. They kill off more than half of the female swift parrots in Tasmania every year.

A sugar glider Jonathan Hornung / CC BY-SA 2.5

Study co-author Dejan Stojanovic told The Guardian that scientists were working with the Tasmanian government to control the sugar glider population and installing nesting-boxes for the parrots that lock when the sun sets at night, but nothing had been done about deforestation.

"I am not confident at all [that the species will survive]," Stojanovic told The Guardian. "We have been working on swift parrots for the last decade, we know so much about them, even to the point that we know about their sex lives now … but even though we know so much, we are actively logging their habitat. We are wilfully pushing the things that are going to lead to their extinction."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pixabay

By Claire L. Jarvis

A ruckus over biofuels has been brewing in Iowa.

Read More Show Less
Serena and Venus Williams have been known to follow a vegan diet. Edwin Martinez / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Whitney E. Akers

  • "The Game Changers" is a new documentary on Netflix that posits a vegan diet can improve athletic performance in professional athletes.

  • Limited studies available show that the type of diet — plant-based or omnivorous — doesn't give you an athletic advantage.

  • We talked to experts about what diet is the best for athletic performance.

Packed with record-setting athletes displaying cut physiques and explosive power, "The Game Changers," a new documentary on Netflix, has a clear message: Vegan is best.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
An illegally trafficked tiger skull and pelt. Ryan Moehring / USFWS

By John R. Platt

When it comes to solving problems related to wildlife trade, there are an awful lot of "sticky widgets."

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Inflammation can be both good and bad.

On one hand, it helps your body defend itself from infection and injury. On the other hand, chronic inflammation can lead to weight gain and disease.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Dan Nosowitz

It's no secret that the past few years have been disastrous for the American farming industry.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD

Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and coconut oil are fats that have risen in popularity alongside the ketogenic, or keto, diet.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Bijal Trivedi

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on Nov. 13 that describes a list of microorganisms that have become resistant to antibiotics and pose a serious threat to public health. Each year these so-called superbugs cause more than 2.8 million infections in the U.S. and kill more than 35,000 people.

Read More Show Less
Rool Paap / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Inflammation can be good or bad depending on the situation.

Read More Show Less