11/03/2015
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Endangered parakeet saved by supplemental feeding

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Echo Parakeet was reduced to around 10 individuals in the early 1970s, but has since risen to almost 300 due to targeted conservation efforts. Photo: Josh Noseworthy (commons.wikimedia.org).
Echo Parakeet was reduced to around 10 individuals in the early 1970s, but has since risen to almost 300 due to targeted conservation efforts. Photo: Josh Noseworthy (commons.wikimedia.org).
New research has revealed that supplemental feeding of endangered bird populations can help their recovery despite exacerbating the effects of infectious disease.

The study by conservationists at the University of Kent examined the successful recovery of the once critically endangered Echo Parakeet of Mauritius, using more than 20 years of data spanning several generations of the bird.

Supported by this long-term data, the team – led by Dr Simon Tollington of the University’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) – discovered that supplemental feeding can have different effects at various stages of brood productivity, and that parakeets which took supplemental food generally fledged a higher proportion of chicks than pairs which did not use this resource. This was partly due to the consistency of supplemental provisioning which makes up for short-falls in natural food availability.

The research also revealed that during a disease outbreak, the eggs of birds which took supplemental food were less likely to hatch than those of birds which did not. This may be a result of increased contact with other birds around feeding stations leading to greater exposure to disease and ultimately to a physiological trade-off between the maternal immune system response and the energy invested in reproduction. Despite the negative effects of disease, the researchers were surprised to note the overall resilience of this endangered population to the outbreak, as the effects were short-lived and the population continued to recover.

The research also highlights the importance of long-term monitoring and the need to apply evidence-based research to conservation strategies. The incorporation of disease results derived from blood samples collected during this period has resulted in an almost unparalleled dataset for studying disease outbreaks in wild populations.
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