Kakapo Sirocco among the renga renga lillies on Maud Island. Photo: Chris Birmingham, 2012/New Zealand Department of Conservation
A new paper published by PeerJ Life & Environment has provided valuable insights into the variables that affect the highly endangered kakapo, a flightless parrot species native to New Zealand. The findings provide valuable guidance for conservation management strategies aimed at reducing the slow population growth of this species, as well as the need for a balanced conservation strategy that takes into account both the short-term negative effects of hand-rearing and other management strategies.
The findings have immediate implications for kakapo conservation management:
With infrequent breeding, high infertility, and poor hatching success hampering conservation efforts, kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) breeding occurs only once a year, particularly the rimu tree (Dacrydium cupressinum), which is only observed once per 2-4 years.
Dianne Mason, 2009/New Zealand Department of Conservation photo: a two-month-old kakapo chick
Conservation strategies for wild-living endangered species like the kakapo rely on enhancing survival and productivity in order to maintain population growth. However, problems with reproductive output often limit recovery. Hand-rearing, in which animals are raised in captivity by humans, is often used in threatened species conservation initiatives, primarily to increase productivity.
The kakapo's clutch fertility was examined using Bayesian mixed models.
The results suggest that some aspects of conservation management have inadvertently lowered clutch fertility. Hand-rearing, while undoubtedly increasing chick survival, has decreased clutch fertility. Hand-rearing has a significant influence on kakapo's copulation behavior in males more than females, according to imprinting behaviors found in hand-reared male but not female kakapo.
High levels of sperm competition in kakapo are likely to increase the chance of fertilization, according to the study.
The findings of this study underscore the need for thorough longitudinal research, as well as an investigation into other endangered bird species' experiences.
These flightless birds have finely blotched yellow-green plumage, distinctive forward-facing eyes, large grey beak, large blue feet, and relatively short wings and tail, all of which make it the world's only flightless bird. It is also the world's oldest bird to have a polygynous lek breeding system, with a reported lifespan of up to 100 years.
The kakapo is critically endangered, with 249 living individuals, all of whom have been identified and tagged, and is kept in four small islands off the coast of New Zealand that have been cleared of predators.
Kakapo means "night parrot" in Maori.
Digby A, Eason D, Catalina A, Le Lec MF, Guhlin J, Dearden PK, Joustra T, Lees C, Vercoe D, and the Kakapo Recovery Team, 3 February 2023, PeerJ. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.14675