A once critically endangered species of parrot now under threat from a highly contagious virus may be offered a renewed chance of survival by a conservationist at the University of Kent.
Dr Jim Groombridge, Lecturer in Biodiversity Conservation at the University's Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), has been awarded GBP215,594 from the Leverhulme Trust to lead a three-year project that aims to determine what factors drive the Mauritius parakeet's susceptibility to infection, and in particular the spread of the highly contagious (and often lethal) parrot-specific virus Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) that has recently infected this endangered parrot.
This project is all the more important given that the once widespread population of the Mauritius parakeet (Psittacula echo) fell to just 12 individuals by 1987, following a century of habitat loss and competition from the introduced ringneck parakeet. However, following a highly successful avian restoration programme, numbers of Mauritian parakeets eventually recovered to 350 birds (resulting in its downgrading from critically endangered to endangered) but in 2004 an outbreak of PBFD threatened this still recovering population.
Alongside its principal aim of providing important guidance for managing the disease-problems encountered by this endangered parrot, the project will also provide equally important guidance for managing infectious disease in species conservation programmes worldwide. In addition, it will provide a rare opportunity to study the epidemiology of infectious disease as extensive data is available from 20 years of careful monitoring of both the Mauritius parakeet and a closely related, introduced species of parakeet.
Dr Groombridge's partners on the project are: Dr Owen Lyne, Institute of Mathematics, Statistics and Actuarial Science, University of Kent; Dr Chris Faulkes, Queen Mary, University of London; Dr Andrew Greenwood, International Zoo Veterinary Group, UK; and Dr Carl Jones, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation on Mauritius.
The dramatic success story of the Mauritius parakeets' rescue from extinction (one of the few remaining endemic parrots in the Indian Ocean) is the direct result of coordinated efforts and long-term support of the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, The World Parrot Trust, the UK's International Zoo Veterinary Group and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey.
Dr Groombridge said: 'This project will integrate epidemiology and immunogenetics within an important and high-profile parrot recovery programme managed by the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation - an organisation that has gained a worldwide reputation for its success in restoring critically endangered species from the brink of extinction. Funding by The Leverhulme Trust will provide a much needed inter-disciplinary platform to examine how avian diseases can be effectively managed for the long-term.'