Swift parrots are ‘quickly’ heading towards extinction 

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THE swift parrot is heading quickly towards extinction with fewer than 300 left in the wild, according to new research from ANU. 

This is much lower than previous estimates and lead researcher Dr George Olah says this shows that major threats, like deforestation, needs to be urgently addressed.

“We used DNA extracted from blood and feather samples to estimate the population size of the swift parrot for the first time,” Dr Olah said.

“With our background knowledge of the species from a decade of research, this study has painted a much clearer, and starker picture of how few of these birds are currently left in the wild.

“Understanding the current population size of the swift parrot is essential for their conservation.”

The swift parrots’ nomadic lifestyle makes them very difficult to study and protect, revealed co-author co-author Prof Rob Heinsohn, who said: “They fly around Tasmania looking for the best habitat, but they also migrate to mainland Australia each year looking for food.”

“Each Spring they look for the best flowering patches of trees near nest hollows, so each year they end up in a different location.

“This also makes the actual census population size hard to estimate. But there are several ways you can use genetic samples to arrive at what’s called the ‘effective population size’.”

The researchers hope this study will highlight how quickly the swift parrot is heading toward extinction, with co-author Dr Dejan Stojanovic saying swift parrots are critically threatened by a range of factors, including deforestation of their habitat.

“This study shows that threats like the severe deforestation of the Tasmanian breeding habitat of swift parrots has drastically reduced their population size and increased the odds that the species will go extinct,” Dr Stojanovic said.

The study could also help other endangered species, according to Dr Olah, who says the findings have important implications for other threatened species with unknown population sizes.

“They demonstrate that by using available genetic data, we can get reasonable estimates of population sizes. These estimates can provide an early warning for conservation managers,” Dr Olah said.

The research has been published in Animal Conservation.

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