The hoodoo (Strigops habroptila) is a parrot that cannot fly – because of its size that makes it the heaviest parrot in the world – and is one of the most endangered birds in the world. In 1995, only 51 of these species remained, and 50 of them were isolated on the tiny island of Stewart, New Zealand.
Thanks to the conservation efforts, the species now counts 200 specimens, even if it remains in serious danger. A recent collaboration by researchers from New Zealand and Sweden found that creatures have prospered through blood pairing, or related members.
Generally, according to a common idea, animal consanguinity could lead to serious mutations. However, as it turns out, the capacapò have lost a number of potentially harmful mutations instead of accumulating them. “Even though the cacapò is one of the most bloody and threatened species of birds in the world, it has far less harmful mutations than expected,” said Dr. Nicolas Dussex, researcher at the Paleogenetics Centre and the University of Stockholm.
For about 10,000 years the creature has been isolated on the island. Here “damaging mutations have been removed from natural selection in a process called ‘elimination’ and consanguinity may have facilitated this selection,” continues Dussex. To find out what has been said, experts have conducted the analysis of 49 bird genomes: 35 taken from the living birds of the island of Stewart and 14 from the population present on the continent (and declared functionally extinct).
The only surviving male on the mainland, discovered by experts, has more harmful mutations than the birds on Stewart Island. Nevertheless, it could still be the best candidate possible because it is genetically distinct from the other specimens. This is an “encouraging result as a large number of genetic defects have been lost over time and that high bloodiness alone may not necessarily mean that the species is destined for extinction,” the expert finally states.
Other curiosities about parrots: one study says they are good gamblers, while another tries to understand why they are able to speak.