Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Recovery Efforts Not Enough for Critically Endangered Asian Vulture

Captive breeding colonies of a critically endangered vulture, whose numbers in the wild have dwindled from tens of millions to a few thousand, are too small to protect the species from extinction, a University of Michigan analysis shows.

Adding wild birds to the captive colonies, located in Pakistan and India, is crucial, but political and logistical barriers are hampering efforts, says lead author Jeff A. Johnson.

The study was published online August 15 in the journal Biological Conservation.

With a seven-foot wingspan, the oriental white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis) was an awesome presence in south Asia until the mid-1990s, when populations began to collapse. At first the cause was unclear, but researchers eventually zeroed in on an anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac, that is used to alleviate arthritis-like symptoms in livestock but is toxic to vultures. Vultures that feed on carcasses of animals treated with the drug die of kidney failure within a day or two after eating the tainted meat. And although India, Nepal and Pakistan outlawed its manufacture in 2006, diclofenac is still available, and birds are still dying.

While the death of an unattractive bird that scavenges for a living may not sound like a great loss, vultures have important cultural and religious significance in south Asia. The ancient Parsi religion holds earth, fire and water sacred, and to avoid contaminating them, the Parsis dispose of their dead by placing them on "Towers of Silence," where vultures consume the remains. In addition, the vulture saint Jatayu is an important figure in Hindu religion. The absence of vultures poses a direct threat to public health as well, as uneaten livestock carcasses provide breeding grounds for bacteria and attract feral dogs, which may spread rabies and other diseases.

When any large population crashes, as the vultures have, the amount of genetic diversity in the population also is likely to dwindle. This is a concern, Johnson said, because a population's genetic diversity reflects its ability to adapt to environmental challenges such as changing climate or outbreaks of disease. Without the ability to adapt, populations and whole species may become extinct.

Johnson and coworkers used museum specimens collected before the decline began, along with recent feather and tissue samples from birds in Pakistan's last remaining wild breeding colony, to see how genetic diversity in the wild population has changed as the population has plummeted. Then, assuming captive populations of various sizes, they used computer simulations to determine how large captive populations must be to preserve genetic diversity.

The analysis showed that while there was still a fair amount of genetic diversity in the wild population two years ago when their last samples were obtained, current captive populations are not large enough to maintain that diversity if the wild populations are wiped out---a fate that seems inevitable if people keep using diclofenac. The simulation results also suggest that levels of genetic diversity in the wild may already be in decline.

"We know the problem, and we know the solution," said Johnson, who was an assistant research scientist at U-M when the research was done and recently accepted a position as an assistant professor at the University of North Texas in Denton. "We just need to get diclofenac out of the environment and more birds into protection before it is too late."

The Peregrine Fund, a organization that works to conserve birds of prey in nature, is trying to prevent the birds' extinction, but it's an effort that requires money and international cooperation, both of which can be problematic in the vultures' home countries.

"One of my goals with this paper," Johnson said, "is to raise awareness of the problem and to increase political will in India and Pakistan to get this matter resolved."

Johnson's coauthors on the Biological Conservation paper are Martin Gilbert of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Munir Virani and Muhammad Asim of the Peregrine Fund, and former U-M professor of ecology and evolutionary biology David Mindell, now at the California Academy of Sciences. The researchers received funding from The Peregrine Fund.

For more information:

Biological Conservation paper: "Temporal genetic analysis of the critically endangered oriental white-backed vulture in Pakistan":

U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology:

The Peregrine Fund report on the Asian vulture crisis:

The Peregrine Fund update on the Asian vulture population project:

The Peregrine Fund Asian vulture fact sheet:

Vulture Rescue:

Nancy Ross-Flanigan | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>