Museum collection reveals distribution of Carolina parakeet 100 years after its extinction

June 19, 2018, Pensoft Publishers
A preserved male specimen of Carolina parakeet. Credit: Huub Veldhuijzen van Zanten/Naturalis Biodiversity Center

While 2018 marks the centenary of the death of the last captive Carolina parakeet—North America's only native parrot, a team of researchers have shed new light on the previously known geographical range of the species, which was officially declared extinct in 1920.

Combining observations and specimen data, the new Carolina parakeet occurrence dataset, recently published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal by Dr. Kevin Burgio, , Dr. Colin Carlson, University of Maryland and Georgetown University, and Dr. Alexander Bond, Natural History Museum of London, is the most comprehensive ever produced.

The new study provides unprecedented information on the birds range providing a window into the past ecology of a lost .

"Making these data freely available to other researchers will hopefully help unlock the mysteries surrounding the extinction and ecology of this iconic species. Parrots are the most at-risk group of birds and anything we can learn about past extinctions may be useful going forward," says the study's lead author, Kevin Burgio.

The observational recordings included in the study have been gleaned from a wide variety of sources, including the correspondence of well-known historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson and the explorers Lewis and Clark.

The study team referenced recorded sightings spanning nearly 400 years. The oldest recorded sighting dates back to 1564, and was found in a description of the current state of Florida written by Rene Laudonniere in 1602.

Illustration of the Carolina parakeet by Jacques Barraband (1801). Credit: Jacques Barraband

Alongside the written accounts, the researchers included location data from . These include 25 bird skins from the Natural History Museum's Tring site, whose skin collection is the second largest of its kind in the world, with almost 750,000 specimens representing about 95 per cent of the world's bird species. Thereby, the study proves what invaluable resources collections can be.

"The unique combination of historical research and museum specimens is the only way we can learn about the range of this now-extinct species. Museums are archives of the natural world and research collections like that of the Natural History Museum are incredibly important in helping to increase our understanding of biodiversity conservation and extinction," says Alex Bond.

Carolina parakeets by John James Audubon (1833). Credit: John James Audubon

"By digitising , we can unlock the potential of millions of specimens, helping us to answer some of today's big questions in biodiversity science and conservation."

It is hoped that this research will be the beginning of a wider reaching work that will explore further into the ecology of this long lost species.

Explore further: The tragic story of America's only native parrot, now extinct for 100 years

More information: Kevin Burgio et al, Georeferenced sighting and specimen occurrence data of the extinct Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) from 1564 - 1944, Biodiversity Data Journal (2018). DOI: 10.3897/BDJ.6.e25280

Related Stories

Five new species of frogs identified in museum collections

March 20, 2018

Researchers from Yale-NUS College and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences have discovered five new species of Southeast Asian frogs from a group of museum specimens that had long been considered to only contain ...

How coyotes conquered the continent

May 22, 2018

Coyotes now live across North America, from Alaska to Panama, California to Maine. But where they came from, and when, has been debated for decades. Using museum specimens and fossil records, researchers from the North Carolina ...

100,000 bird samples online

February 27, 2015

The Natural History Museum (NHM) in Oslo has a bird collection of international size. It is now available online.

OpenWings project: Scientists to build the avian tree of life

April 11, 2018

Birds are the only surviving descendants of dinosaurs. Birds also are used to study a large range of fundamental topics in biology from understanding the evolution of mating systems to learning about the genetic and environmental ...

Recommended for you

Custom circuits for living cells

September 24, 2018

A team of Caltech researchers has developed a biological toolkit of proteins that can be assembled together in different ways, like Legos, to program new behaviors in cells. As a proof-of-concept, they designed and constructed ...

Silver fox study reveals genetic clues to social behavior

September 24, 2018

In 1959, Russian scientists began an experiment to breed a population of silver foxes, selecting and breeding foxes that exhibited friendliness toward people. They wanted to know if they could repeat the adaptations for tameness ...

How quinoa plants shed excess salt and thrive in saline soils

September 21, 2018

Barely heard of a couple of years ago, quinoa today is common on European supermarket shelves. The hardy plant thrives even in saline soils. Researchers from the University of Würzburg have now determined how the plant gets ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

mitcheroo
not rated yet Jun 19, 2018
But they apparently wouldn't reveal the new distribution info to Brainsoft Publishers.
Iochroma
not rated yet Jun 19, 2018
The thick-billed parrot is also native to the United States.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.