There could be fewer than 300 swift parrots left in the wild, according to newresearch from The Australian National University (ANU).

Lead researcher Dr George Olah says this is much lower than previous estimatesand shows we need to urgently address major threats like deforestation.

“We used DNA extracted from blood and feather samples to estimate thepopulation size of the swift parrot for the first time,” Dr Olah said.

“With our background knowledge of the species from a decade of research, thisstudy has painted a much clearer, and starker picture of how few of thesebirds are currently left in the wild.

“Understanding the current population size of the swift parrot is essentialfor their conservation.”

The swift parrots’ nomadic lifestyle makes them very difficult to study andprotect.

“They fly around Tasmania looking for the best habitat, but they also migrateto mainland Australia each year looking for food,” co-author Professor RobHeinsohn said.

“Each Spring they look for the best flowering patches of trees near nesthollows, so each year they end up in a different location.

“This also makes the actual census population size hard to estimate. But thereare several ways you can use genetic samples to arrive at what’s called the‘effective population size’.”

The researchers hope this study will highlight how quickly the swift parrot isheading toward extinction.

“Swift parrots are critically threatened by a range of factors, includingdeforestation of their habitat,” co-author Dr Dejan Stojanovic said.

“This study shows that threats like the severe deforestation of the Tasmanianbreeding habitat of swift parrots has drastically reduced their populationsize and increased the odds that the species will go extinct.”

The study could also help other endangered species.

“Our findings have important implications for other threatened species withunknown population sizes,” Dr Olah said.

“They demonstrate that by using available genetic data, we can get reasonableestimates of population sizes. These estimates can provide an early warningfor conservation managers.”

The research has been published in Animal Conservation.

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