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Birds: Kakapos have good genes

Birds : Kakapos have good ones Gene

The New Zealand kakapo is one of the rarest bird species on earth. However, its genetic makeup is still surprisingly diverse and healthy. That gives hope. by Esther Megbel A kakapo called & raquo; Sirocco & laquo; © Liu Yang/Getty Images/iStock (detail)

Kakapo fans can be happy: The cute birds carry fewer genes that are harmful to their species conservation than previously feared. Scientists working with Nicolas Dussex from the Center for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm came to this conclusion in the journal »Cell Genomics«. Because only a few eggs actually hatch kakapo chicks and the semen quality of the males is poor, it was suspected that a high proportion of harmful gene mutations prevented the plump parrots from reproducing. In addition, kakapos have lost around 70 to 80 percent of their genetic diversity through inbreeding and isolation since the beginning of the 19th century.

In small populations there is a risk that more harmful gene mutations are inherited, which can lead to the extinction of the species. On the other hand, these harmful gene variants could just as easily disappear from the gene pool through inbreeding. The analyzes by Dussex and his team suggest that the latter applies to the kakapos.

The researchers analyzed the genome of 49 & nbsp; Kakapos, including that of 13 & nbsp; museum specimens that lived on New Zealand's main islands at the time had. The team also found that the living kakapos actually carry lower levels of harmful genes than their previous conspecifics.

Kakapos are flightless parrots that can only be found in New Zealand. By around 10,000 years ago, hundreds of thousands of them had populated the country's two main islands. Since the arrival of humans, however, their population has declined dangerously: in 1995 only 51 birds were still alive on Stewart Island; a single male, named Richard Henry, existed alone on the main island before being captured and relocated to a predator-free island. Thanks to numerous species protection programs, the kakapo population has grown to around 200 & nbsp; individuals.

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