See also:
» 09.03.2013 - Cape Verde to produce dragon fruit
» 17.03.2011 - Congo halts oil exploration in Virunga Park
» 07.10.2010 - Cape Verde gets Africa's first giant wind farm
» 23.05.2006 - Satellites reveal marine turtles' migrations
» 03.04.2006 - Researchers study Cape Verdeans' genetic structure
» 06.03.2006 - "Threat from wild birds unlikely in West Africa"
» 07.02.2006 - Will turtles survive Cape Verde tourist invasion?
» 31.10.2005 - Whales guided to safety in Cape Verde

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Cape Verde
Environment - Nature | Science - Education

Rare Cape Verde bird "never existed"

Cape Verde kite - or not?

© The Peregrine Fund / afrol News
afrol News, 26 July
- The raptors known as Cape Verde kites are said to be one of the world's rarest birds of prey and breeding efforts in Cape Verde aim at saving them from extinction. Genetic research however indicates the efforts have come too late. The remaining kites are not Cape Verde kites at all, but more common black kites, the research shows.

According to a genetic analysis by researchers at the US University of Michigan and The Peregrine Fund, the Cape Verde kites probably already are extinct. Conservation efforts on the archipelago seem to concentrate on another species, which is quite common in North Africa and Europe, the black kites. "The real Cape Verde kites apparently disappeared some time ago and never were a uniquely different species," the study suggests.

The finding, recently published in the scientific journal 'Proceedings of the Royal Society B', adds a new twist to the ongoing debate about how species are defined and how those definitions are used to guide conservation efforts, said David Mindell, a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and director of the Michigan Museum of Zoology.

Environmentalists in future should consult more with genetic researchers, Mr Mindell suggests. "It is important to recognise distinctive species as the focus for scarce conservation funds, but as this example shows, there are cases in which species that were recognised over 100 years ago actually are not valid species. In such cases, funds might be redirected to species in dire need," he emphasises.

The birds known as Cape Verde kites live only on the Cape Verde archipelago. Conservationists have been concerned that habitat loss, widespread use of rodent-killing chemicals and other factors were driving those birds to the brink of extinction and threatening other types of wildlife on the islands. In 2002, biologists captured five birds thought to be Cape Verde kites and considered starting a captive breeding program.

- That is an expensive proposition, so we wanted to take a look at the Cape Verde kite to get an idea of how distinctive it was genetically; whether it really was something unique that would justify the effort, Mr Mindell said. A research team from the US state of Michigan thus performed a genetic analysis on material from contemporary black kites, red kites and historical Cape Verde kite museum specimens collected between 1897 and 1924 as well as the five kites captured on the Cape Verde Islands in 2002.

The results were not encouraging. "The bottom line," Mr Mindell said, "was that the few kites that are out there now are not Cape Verde kites; they are black kites, which are widely distributed throughout the Old World and are not in danger." In fact, black kites are very common in northern Africa, the Middle East and Australia.

The researchers were even more surprised when investigating the genes of the Cape Verde kites collected hundred years ago. "The historical specimens of Cape Verde kites don't even hold together as a distinct group," Mr Mindell says. On the genealogical tree the researchers constructed, the museum specimens originally identified as Cape Verde kites are not one another's closest relatives; they are scattered within a larger group of red kites, a species common in Europe.

The researchers' conclusions however did not mean that all conservation efforts in the Cape Verde Islands should be called off, they emphasise. Other species on the islands, such as the raso lark and the Cape Verde warbler, are at risk, Mr Mindell said.

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