Australia’s Orange Bellied Parrot is Flying Close to Extinction

With an estimated 50 individuals left in the wild, the orange-bellied parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) is considered one of the worlds rarest and most endangered species.

In conjunction with Melbourne Water, cesar is supporting conservation efforts by advising on the genetic management of this critically endangered species.

An orange-bellied parrot captive breeding program has been underway since the early 1990’s in zoos across Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. This captive breeding program acts as an insurance population, but birds are also reintroduced into the wild in an attempt to boost wild populations.

Genetic diversity of populations is a critical component of species resilience and survival and therefore needs to be considered when managing threatened species in the wild and in captive breeding programs.

Small populations of species, as in the case of the orange-bellied parrot, are typically subject to the effects of inbreeding, random genetic drift and low genetic diversity.

Melbourne Water have provided funding and are collaborating with cesar on a research program to understand how genetic diversity has been affected in both the wild orange-bellied parrot population and the captive breeding program through time.

Among other things the results from this genetic research will:

  • determine the genetic health of wild and captive populations
  • inform breeding decisions in captivity
  • optimize strategies for maximizing genetic diversity and therefore species resilience within orange bellied parrot populations

The orange-bellied parrot is native to Australia. It breeds only in the coastal south-west of Tasmania migrating in winter to coastal Victoria and South Australia.

Since the 1920s, the species has suffered a decline in numbers due to habitat fragmentation and threat of predators and is now on the brink of extinction.

Cover image: Photo by Ron Knight, CC by 2.0

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