New species of parrot: Cape Parrot DNA New Species

Published: August 13, 2015

New species of parrot: Cape Parrot DNA New Species, The cape parrot has been considered a sub-species of the brown-necked parrot, which is not a threatened species. (Cyril Laubscher)

Scientists say South Africa’s cape parrot should be recognized as a new species – one vulnerable to extinction – based on new DNA evidence.

The cape parrot has been considered a sub-species of the brown-necked parrot, which is not a threatened species.

But DNA evidence suggests that it split off from the brown-necked parrot about two million years ago, and is therefore a separate species, according to a new scientific paper published in the journal PLOS ONE today.

If the cape parrot is recognized as a separate species, it would meet the criterion for being listed as “vulnerable” under the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ Red List of Threatened Species, the paper says. The list is used to guide conservation worldwide.

The bird would also qualify for protection under the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

“Subspecies are not always given the same conservation consideration as species which can hinder protection of genetically distinct lineages,” wrote the researchers, led by Willem Coetzer from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

To be considered separate species, related animals or plants with overlapping ranges must be proven not to interbreed with one another.

Some scientists had previously argued unsuccessfully that the cape parrot should be a separate species. They noted that the cape parrot and brown-necked parrot breed at different times of the year in different kinds of trees, and eat different kinds of food.

Previous evidence not convincing
But Birdlife International, the organization that last assessed the scientific evidence in 2012 for the IUCN red list was not convinced. It said that there wasn’t clear evidence that the birds’ ranges didn’t overlap and that they used different habitats.

The researchers wrote that conservation groups like Birdlife International have “highlighted the need for genetic data” to show that overlapping populations don’t interbreed in order to prove they are separate species.

They said they think their analysis of the DNA of 130 specimens from five related species of parrots, including the cape parrot and the brown-necked parrot, does this.

Andrew Symes, global species officer for Birdlife International, said the organization will review the study.

“We are constantly advising our taxonomy and where new evidence comes to light, we’ll obviously definitely consider that.”

However, he added, it could take a while and he could not say what the chances were that new evidence would be enough for the cape parrot be recognized as a new species.

New species of parrot: Cape Parrot DNA New Species

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