Less than two centuries after the theory of evolution’s debut, Charles Darwin’s famous finches near extinction. Researchers found that an aggressive parasitic fly may force the birds go extinct in 50 years’ time. Hopefully, the process can be prevented.
Bird experts have been studying the Galapagos Island finches for years and found that the parasite attack the tiny birds’ offspring before reaching maturity. The birds helped Charles Darwin come up with his famous theory.
Researchers explained that the birds may soon face extinction as a fly lays eggs in their nests, and larvae kill their young especially during night time. Prof Dale Clayton, senior author of the study, said that the young finches are eliminated by maggots.
Some of the parasite’s eggs are laid directly in the young birds’ nostrils. In some severe cases, researchers found baby birds with perforated beaks as the vermin eats them from within.
The parasites arrived on the islands in the 60s, researchers estimate. Clayton’s team used statistics and computer algorithms to predict future impact of the parasitic fly population on indigenous finches.
In their study, scientists used data on the birds’ reproduction rates dating back to 2010. The research team explained that finches on the island produce more offspring in years with more rainfall as food is less scarce then. If there is too much humidity or dryness, finches have the lowest reproduction rates.
Researchers used computer models, which revealed three scenarios. In the worst-case scenario the birds would go extinct at some point in the 2060s. The models also revealed that their chances of survival were greatly lowered by the parasitic flies, rather than weather conditions.
Jennifer Koop, lead researcher involved in the study and researcher with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said that there is also a piece of good news. If humans helped the birds get rid of the parasites they would be saved from extinction.
The team estimates that finches would get out of harm’s way if 40 percent of their nests were cleared of the nasty parasitic flies. Humans could intervene by using insects that feed on the parasites and their larvae. This is the most eco-friendly method.
Another proposed method is linked to pesticides. Researchers thought about treating cotton balls with a pesticide and let the finches line their nests with them. They would need only one gram of the material in their homes to exterminate the entire parasitic population.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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