Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Kakapo: Nature's response to small gene pools

The Kakapo is largish flightless bird of the New Zealand's South Island. As with other isolated flightless birds (like the Dodo of Mauritius), they have no natural predators and therefore were unprepared for people. 

Yes, it is hard to see and judge size, check at the end for more Kakapo pics.

When the Maori arrived (about 700 years ago), they were delighted to find a delicious, easy to catch bird. And then almost wiped them out. And then the British came and pretty much finished the job. By 1995 there was 1 - one - left on the South Island. There was also a very small population (50) on Stewart Island, just off the coast. A few tens of thousands of years ago, Stewart Island broke off from the South Island, and a small population was left.

In most cases, a small population is bad because the genetic pool is reduced and the population has the possibility of genetic problems. What I did NOT know is there is a second trick of very small populations. In this case, the population has what scientists call “purifying selection.”  That is instead of harmful mutations, if other evolutionary factors are involved, the population quickly weeds out harmful mutations. It's all in the article.

New Zealand has worked to protect the, and now there are 200+ and they will be reintroduced on the mainland. They are cool and weird.

They are large birds, still not too afraid of people

Angry Kakpo coming at you!

I've seen that look before. It says, "don't screw with me."

At the Kakapo research center

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