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Joint Study by University of Michigan and The Peregrine Fund Shows There is Still Time to Protect the Harpy Eagle from Extinction
14 October 2009
Harpy Eagle populations in Central America have declined dramatically in the last 50 years, but a new study led by researchers at the University of Michigan and The Peregrine Fund shows that the levels of genetic diversity over the bird's entire distribution may be high enough to save the species from extinction.
The peer-reviewed study was published by the Public Library of Science journal PLoS One and is available online at:http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0007336
"Despite recent population declines, we found that Harpy Eagles have similar mitochondrial genetic diversity to that seen in some other raptors with healthy populations, suggesting there is still time to protect the Harpy Eagle if we act now," said Heather Lerner, lead author. She is a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics at the Smithsonian Institution National Zoological Park.
Co-authors include Lloyd F. Kiff, The Peregrine Fund; Jeff A. Johnson, University of North Texas; Alec R. Lindsay, Northern Michigan University; and David P. Mindell, California Academy of Sciences.
For this study--the first to investigate levels of genetic diversity in this species--researchers studied mitochondrial (maternally-inherited) DNA from 66 Harpy Eagles in 12 Neotropical countries. They found high levels of mitochondrial genetic diversity, particularly in South American populations, with some genetic evidence for a recent population decline in Central America.
"By focusing conservation efforts on protecting multiple local populations that harbor reservoirs of genetic diversity, we may be able to protect the Harpy Eagle from inbreeding and extinction," Lerner said.
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Fact SheetDatos del Aguila ArpiaPhotos
Heather Lerner, Smithsonian Institution
Jeff Johnson, University of North Texas
Susan Whaley, The Peregrine Fund