2 Jun 2021

Latest research: petrels divided, vultures pushed together by climate change

Join us for a bite-sized round-up of advances published in our journal Bird Conservation International. This issue covers how to translocate Cook’s Petrel to its former range, how climate change will force vulture species to compete, and how the public uncovered vital data on the Yellow Cardinal.

Cook's Petrel © Spatuletail / Shutterstock
Cook's Petrel © Spatuletail / Shutterstock
By Jessica Law

Cook’s Petrel: separate subspecies confirmed

Biodiversity isn’t just about the number of species – it’s also about genetic diversity within a species. Having a diverse range of genes allows species to adapt to a changing world, and the differences between populations can tell us a lot about a species’ history. Cook’s Petrel Pterodroma cookii (Vulnerable) is a small seabird that breeds only in New Zealand. Formerly widespread, its range has contracted dramatically with the growth of human populations, and the bird now breeds on just two offshore islands at opposite ends of New Zealand: Codfish Island and Little Barrier Island. A new study used DNA sequencing to confirm that the two populations are separate subspecies that historically occupied different areas of the mainland – and should be treated as such. From now on, any translocations to the South Island should be sourced from Codfish Island, and future translocations to the North Island should continue to be sourced from Little Barrier Island only.


 American Black Vulture (L) © Judy Gallagher / Flickr, Andean Condor (R) © Reisegrafch / Shutterstock

Andean Condor and American Black Vulture: pushed together by climate change

Many people still see climate change as something that’s going to happen in the future. But its effects are already being seen in the natural world – sometimes pushing species together that, as far as we know, have never co-existed before. The Andean Condor Vultur gryphus (Vulnerable) and American Black Vulture Coragyps atratus may well be two such species. Until less than a hundred years ago, these majestic raptors’ ranges did not overlap. Today, they are beginning to share habitat in parts of South America. Scientists used ecological niche modelling to predict the effects that further climate change and human activity could have on this overlap. They found that, while it would not increase everywhere, in the northern Andes their ranges would coincide by 70% by 2070. This extra competition for food could put the already threatened Andean Condor at greater risk of extinction.

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Yellow Cardinal © Linda de Volder / Flickr

Yellow Cardinal: citizen science to the rescue

Because of its melodious song and vivid colours, the Yellow Cardinal Gubernatrix cristata (Endangered) is threatened by the illegal pet trade across South America’s Southern Cone. Despite its plight, there have been no co-ordinated efforts to map the remaining populations across this vast region. That is, until now. Recent citizen science surveys, supported by conservation organisations such as Aves Argentinas (BirdLife Partner), uncovered important results while raising public awareness of the species. Thanks to the observations of 140 volunteers across 644 locations, we now know that only four protected areas contain Yellow Cardinals, two of which are private reserves with a low level of protection. On a more positive note, the species was found in a wider range of ecoregions than before, showing it can survive in drier habitats than expected.


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