SLU news

SLU-developed tool can help conserve threatened parrot

Published: 08 June 2020

Researchers from SLU collaborated with members of an indigenous community in Guyana to develop a genetic monitoring tool to aid conservation efforts of an endangered Amazonian parakeet species.

Parrots are among the most endangered groups of birds today and remain threatened by habitat loss and exploitation for the live bird trade. Sun parakeets (Aratinga solstitialis) are popular pets throughout the world today but have almost disappeared in the wild where they might number less than 2.500 individuals according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

"They only occur in the north-eastern region of the Amazon, in the transition zone between tropical rainforests and savannas along the border between Guyana and Brazil", says Robert Spitzer, a researcher at SLU: s Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Environmental Studies.

Only few sun parakeets left in the wild

Researchers from SLU joined with members of an indigenous community in Guyana to develop a genetic monitoring tool for one of the last known breeding populations of sun parakeets in the world.

"It is largely thanks to the local conservation efforts that studying the species in the wild is even still possible", says Robert Spitzer.

Based on blood samples collected together with local experts in Guyana, the researchers developed a panel of genetic markers (SNPs) that allow for identifying individuals, inferring kinship and population structure from DNA samples.

Important method to study birds

The researchers tested the method on a variety of sample types including blood, feces, and feathers and found that the so-called SNP chip worked well on degraded DNA, for example from feces or discarded feathers. The use of such non-invasive samples will allow for detailed population monitoring in the wild without the need to catch or otherwise disturb the birds.

"The SNP chip enables us to answer crucial questions surrounding successful conservation measures such as population size, mating strategies, breeding success, inbreeding and survival", says Robert Spitzer.

Contact person

Robert Spitzer, Researcher at SLU, Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Environmental Studies, +46 (0)72-510 03 95

The article

Robert Spitzer, Anita J. Norman, Helena Königsson, Bastian Schiffthaler & Göran Spong. De novo discovery of SNPs for genotyping endangered sun parakeets (Aratinga solstitialis) in Guyana. Conservation Genetics Resources (2020).

Press images

(May be published without charge in articles about this press release, please acknowledge the photographer).

Photo of Robert Spitzer

Photo of Robert Spitzer

Robert Spitzer. Photo: Susanna Bergström