Tuesday, 23 November 2010

New rare Australian parrot identified

Aussie scientists have identified a new, critically endangered parrot species in Western Australia after analysing DNA from 27 museum specimens - some as far back as 160 years old.

The discovery makes the Western Ground Parrot one of the world's rarest parrots, with just over 100 birds remaining in one known location in Cape Arid National Park on the state's south-west coast.

Australian Wildlife Conservancy ecologist Stephen Murphy led a DNA detective team spread across four states and territories.

"The discovery has major conservation implications," said Dr Murphy. "The Western Ground parrot has declined rapidly in the last 20 years, there are now only about 110 birds surviving in the wild and most of these are confined to a single national park. It is now one of the world's rarest birds."

WA Department of Environment and Conservation's Dr Allan Burbidge said: "A single wildfire through the national park or an influx of introduced predators, such as cats, could rapidly push the species to extinction. There is now an urgent need to prevent further population declines and to establish insurance populations into parts of the former range."

"Our findings demonstrate that museum collections, some going back more than 150 years, continue to be relevant and can provide critical information for understanding and conserving the world's biodiversity into the future," said team member Dr Jeremy Austin, Deputy Director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide.

Director of CSIRO's Australian National Wildlife Collection, Dr Leo Joseph, said: "Even after 200 years of study, we are still recognising new species of birds in Australia. This finding highlights the need for further research on Australia's unique, and sometimes cryptic, biodiversity."

The team's findings have been published this month in the international conservation research journal Conservation Genetics.

To find out more about the parrot, visit Friends of the Western Ground Parrot Inc.

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