What's killing Kakapo

Protection of species: All kakapos should be subjected to genetic analysis

The number of kakapos (Strigops habroptilus) Unfortunately, it grows slowly: Only 125 specimens of the endangered New Zealand parrot currently live on four small islands off the coast of the country - and they reproduce only irregularly when their preferred food plants bear fruit in large numbers. Even in these years, however, it is not certain that the breeding will be successful because the genome of the species is impoverished due to its drastic population decline in earlier decades. In order to get a better picture of the genome of the kakapos and thereby preserve the species in the long term, scientists of the kakapo protection program are tackling an ambitious project: They want to have the genome of all currently living individuals sequenced - for the first time for the complete population of a species. You The DNA analysis of Jane, a female kakapo who was examined by Jason Howard of Duke University, is already available. In order to process the material of the remaining 124 animals, the researchers are currently collecting money with the help of a crowdfunding platform.

With the data, the researchers want to find out what affects the fertility of birds and why they are particularly susceptible to certain diseases. The study is also interesting from an evolutionary point of view, because kakapos are the only surviving flightless parrot species and are among the few nocturnal representatives of this bird family. The scientists have to hurry, however, because new kakapos could soon be on the way. According to the latest counts, a total of 21 females have mated, and some are already sitting on freshly laid eggs. These include some from Kuia, which is particularly pleasing to those responsible. Kuia is the only female with genes from the so-called Fiordland population, while most of the other animals are descendants of Stewart Island and are therefore somewhat genetically impoverished. So Kuia could refresh the gene pool a bit.

Stewart Island was the source of all of the females that were originally left in the conservation program. Up to 200 kakapos had survived here, while they were exterminated on the main New Zealand islands by hunting and later mainly by imported predators such as cats, martens and rats. Only in the inaccessible fjordland of the South Island were other individual animals found, but they were all males. Kuia is the only female descendant of the Fiordland kakapo Richard Henry, which is why she is particularly important for the conservation program. The surviving Stewart Island birds had to be evacuated to smaller islets in the early 1980s after cats were found to kill more than 50 percent of the population each year. In 1995 their number had finally reached an absolute minimum with only 50 animals.