Scarlet Macaw’s feathers: a priceless source of genetic and ecological information
The molted feathers from scarlet macaws, Ara macao (Psittacidae), are sources of small amounts of DNA, so George Olah, a biologist from the Australian National University, is using DNA markers to monitor wildlife populations of this splendid bird in the area of potential impact of the massive road that in 2011 connected the ports of Brazil to the shipping docks of Peru.
For Olah, insights into his macaw study population are hidden in the colorful feathers the macaws left behind. Olah and his colleagues extract that genetic material, and then amplify it. Each DNA sample from a feather contains a genetic tag unique to the bird from which the feather came.
By collecting feathers and sequencing their DNA, the researchers can build a picture of individual birds’ movements through their habitat. Finding samples from the same individuals or families in the landscape can tell researchers where these birds move, how far from their nests they fly, or where evidence of their presence can’t be found.
Photo credit: ©Giovanni Mari | Locality: Tambopata National Reserve, Peru