The endangered alpine parrot may have moved to the mountains of New Zealand “to avoid people”
Scientists studying the kea, a rare and endangered species of alpine parrot native to New Zealand, have discovered that the bird once lived at lower elevations, not just in the mountains, which led them to speculate that he could have moved to avoid people.
The bird is known nationwide for its acrimonious relationship with humans and is known to attack rubber wipers on cars, rummage through tourists’ bags to steal wallets and passports, and even pick sheep at the the fury of the farmers.
According to the Canberra Department of Conservation, only 3,000 to 7,000 of them still live in the New Zealand wilderness.
But the discovery by researchers at the University of Otago, studying kea DNA sequencing and the fossil record and publishing their findings in the academic journal Molecular ecology, suggests that they have a knack for adaptability that bodes well for their chance of surviving the climate crisis.
Global warming is expected to have a devastating impact on Alpine environments and lead its inhabitants to lowland areas where they will face greater vulnerability to predators and increased competition for food, thus increasing their risk of extinction.
It is estimated that 22% of species will disappear from the Italian Alps if current trends, according to a study cited by The Guardian.
But the revelation on the kea indicates new hope for the species.
“Physiologically, nothing prevents the kea from surviving at lower altitudes. He’s a generalist. It will survive from sea level to alpine, ”said Associate Professor Michael Knapps, one of the lead authors of the study, who compared the genomes of the bird to those of kaka, its sister species.
“If the kea use the alpine zone as a refuge from human activity, what other options do they have if the alpine zone disappears? Will they increase their use of forest habitat, potentially increasing competition with kaka? He asks in the report.
Professor Knapps said the theory that the kea had moved to the highlands to avoid human settlements was purely speculative at this point, but could be proven if more data were available.
He suggested that the cull had put “tremendous pressure on the birds” but that “more information is needed to really make that connection.”
But his team believes that the distinctive personality of the olive parrot indicates that such a conscious decision is possible, writing that the change “may have facilitated – or was facilitated by – the evolution of the kea’s unique behavioral repertoire, which includes a great curiosity, learning and problem-solving skills ”.
Co-author Denise Martini, a doctoral student in the university’s anatomy department, said the study “barely touches the tip of the iceberg” of what remains to be learned about kea habits. and kaka.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to conservation decisions, we are often forced to invest in short-term ’emergency’ solutions, and conservation researchers and practitioners rarely have the opportunity. to really look at the long-term survival prospects of a species, ”she said.
“Making these kinds of predictions in a changing environment requires the kind of in-depth knowledge that is simply not available for many species that are in immediate danger of extinction. I hope that with the help of new emerging technologies and increased public awareness of environmental issues, we will be able to overcome the limits we currently have. “