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Smithsonian researchers find differences between Galapagos and mainland frigatebirds
Date:9/28/2010

University of Missouri-St. Louis and those they collected in the field, SCBI researchers determined that the Galapagos version differ not only genetically, but also morphologically.

Now scientists are left with a number of questions: Are the genetics of the magnificent frigatebird on the Galapagos different enough to classify it as a distinct species? And what, exactly, accounts for the genetic and morphological differences when the seabirds can travel far and wide and therefore should not be isolated to one area to reproduce? SCBI and National Museum of Natural History researchers plan to collaborate with others in the field to find the answers.

What is clear, however, is that this small population of genetically unique magnificent frigatebirds is a vulnerable population. Any catastrophic event or threats by humans could wipe out the approximate 2,000 magnificent frigatebirds that nest on the Galapagos Islands.

"The magnificent frigatebirds on the Galapagos are a unique evolutionarily significant unit, and if the Galapagos population did go extinct, the area will not likely be recolonized rapidly by mainland birds," said Robert Fleischer, head of SCBI's Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics and one of the paper's co-authors. "This emphasizes the importance of protecting this small population of birds there."

Magnificent frigatebirds are currently considered of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but the Proceedings of the Royal Society B paper recommends that, because of the genetic uniqueness of those on the Galapagos, this status be revisited.


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Contact: Lindsay Renick Mayer
renickmayerl@si.edu
202-633-3081
Smithsonian
Source:Eurekalert  

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