Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Recovery Efforts Not Enough for Critically Endangered Asian Vulture

09.09.2008
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": http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2008.07.001

U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology: http://www.eeb.lsa.umich.edu/eeb/

The Peregrine Fund report on the Asian vulture crisis: http://www.peregrinefund.org/conserve_category.asp?category=Asian%20Vulture%20Crisis

The Peregrine Fund update on the Asian vulture population project: http://www.peregrinefund.org/vulture/

The Peregrine Fund Asian vulture fact sheet: http://www.peregrinefund.org/vulture_factsheet.asp

Vulture Rescue: http://www.vulturerescue.org/

Nancy Ross-Flanigan | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Safeguarding sustainability through forest certification mapping
27.06.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

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: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersensitive through quantum entanglement

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy under real ambient pressure conditions

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Mice provide insight into genetics of autism spectrum disorders

28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>