Author Archives: Usha Siva

Local Funding Supports Open Access Sequencing of the Puerto Rican Parrot Genome

The critically endangered Puerto Rican Parrot (Amazona vittata) is the only surviving parrot species native to the United States. (Credit: Image courtesy of BioMed Central Limited)

ScienceDaily (Sep. 27, 2012) — The critically endangered Puerto Rican Parrot (Amazona vittata) is the only surviving parrot species native to the United States. A genomic sequencing project, funded by community donations, has published September 28, in BioMed Central and BGI’s open access journal GigaScience, the first sequence of A. vittata, the first of the large Neotropical Amazona birds to be studied at the genomic level.


The Puerto Rican Parrot was once abundant throughout Puerto Rico but destruction of old forest habitats to make way for farming in the 19th Century resulted in a drastic decline in their population. By the mid 1970’s only a handful of individuals were thought to remain. Captive breeding programs in Rio Abajo and El Yunque and the release of these birds have had some success, but the number of these birds in the wild is still very low.

In a unique initiative (developing of the Local Community Involvement), funded entirely by contributions from the communities of Puerto Rico alongside staff and students from the Biology Department of the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, researchers collaborated internationally to sequence this beautiful parrot.

Dr Taras Oleksyk, who organized the The Puerto Rican Parrot Genome Project, explained their findings, “In this project we managed to cover almost 76% of the A. vittata genome using money raised in art and fashion shows, and going door to door asking for the support of Puerto Rican people and local businesses. When we compared our sequence of our parrot, Iguaca, from Rio Abajo to other species of birds, we found that she had 84.5% similarity to zebra finches and 82.7% to a chicken, but her genome was highly rearranged.”

Dr Oleksyk continued, “We are very proud of our project and even more proud to be part of a local community dedicated to raising awareness and furthering scientific knowledge of this endangered bird. All the data from this project is publically available in GigaDB which we hope will be a starting point for comparative studies across avian genome data, and will be used to develop and promote undergraduate education in genome science in the Caribbean. Community involvement may be the key for the future of conservation genetics, and many projects like this are needed reverse the current rate of extinction of birds across the globe.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Taras K Oleksyk, Jean-Francois Pombert, Daniel Siu, Anyimilehidi Mazo-Vargas, Brian Ramos, Wilfried Guiblet, Yashira Afanador, Christina T Ruiz-Rodriguez, Michael L Nickerson, David M Logue, Michael Dean, Luis Figueroa, Ricardo Valentin and Juan-Carlos Martinez-Cruzado. A locally funded Puerto Rican parrot (Amazona vittata) genome sequencing project increases avian data and advances young researcher educationGigaScience, 2012, 1:14

Standing Still in Running Water: Lotic Dragon and Damselfly Species Less Able to Adapt to Climate Change

The Hairy Hawker (Brachytron pratense) is adapted to standing water habitats. It belongs to the family of Aeshnidae. (Credit: Image courtesy of Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum)

ScienceDaily (Mar. 5, 2012) — A study published online in Biology Letters throws light on the capability of individual dragonfly species to track climate change. The authors show that dragonfly species which breed in pools and ponds are better able to cope with climate change than species whose habitats are streams and rivers. The results are based on a comparison of the projected and observed distributions of European dragonfly species in 2006 and 1988.

The study was conducted at the German Biodiversity and Climate Research Center and the Danish Centre for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, and in cooperation with various other European research institutes.

Many dragonfly species have preferred freshwater habitats. Whereas larvae of some species are only to be found in standing (lentic) freshwater habitats such as pools, ponds and lakes, there are also species particularly adapted to running (lotic) freshwater habitats. Does the choice of habitat have consequences for the evolution of dispersal abilities and thus the potential to track climate change?” To find out we compiled data of 88 European dragonfly species and analyzed whether the observed distribution is consistent with what our models tell us about the potential distribution in Europe” says lead author Dr. Christian Hof, BiK-F, about the study design.

Habitat-stability influences dispersal abilities

Comparing the two sets of species the scientists found that lentic dragon- and damselfly species fill their potential range, i.e. the climatically suitable areas, to a higher extent than lotic species. According to the researchers, the species’ different dispersal abilities are due to the lower habitat persistence of standing waters. In the long term it is more likely for pools and pond to disappear as a habitat than a stream or a river. To make up for this risk, lentic dragonfly species have evolved a higher dispersal ability.

Lentic species better able to track climate change

If lentic species are stronger dispersers than lotic species they should also be able to track climate changes more rapidly because the higher the mobility the higher the chance of a change in range. This hypothesis was proven right by comparing observed and projected distributions for 2006. Models based on datasets from 1988 over-predicted lotic species ranges in 2006 indicating that the lower dispersal abilities of lotic species hinder them from filling their climatically suitable range. The tendency for over-prediction was less pronounced for lentic species.

Generalizations for the entire species have to be revised

With a maximum velocity of up to 40 km per hour and travel distances of up to 1,000 km within a few days, dragon- and damselfly species are strong fliers and highly mobile. This has led to the assumption that they will probably survive even drastic climatic changes. “Our results regarding the different dispersal abilities of these species in relation to their habitat preference imply that generalizations for entire species groups about their ability to respond to climate change may be misleading.” says Hof who conducted the study in collaboration with colleagues from the Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany, the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Copenhagen, Denmark and the National Museum for Natural Sciences in Madrid, Spain.

Journal Reference:

  1. C. Hof, M. Brandle, D. M. Dehling, M. Munguia, R. Brandl, M. B. Araujo, C. Rahbek. Habitat stability affects dispersal and the ability to track climate changeBiology Letters, 2012; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0023