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Tiger-parrots show their true stripes

Posted on 15. July, 2011.

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Recently released genetic research from Australia’s CSIRO and New Mexico State University in the USA is helping scientists better understand how Australian birds evolved. The researchers found that the tiger-parrots of New Guinea‘s rainforests – named for their striped or barred plumage – are not, as has been widely accepted, closely related either to a group of rosella-like parrots found in Australia and Oceania, nor a similar group found in Asia and Africa.

The research, which is published in Molecular phylogenetics and evolution, finds that tiger-parrots instead occupy their own perch on the parrot evolutionary tree. “This research on tiger-parrots – and some other enigmatic Australian parrots such as the little-known Night Parrot of inland Australian deserts – sheds light on the bigger picture of parrot evolution for Australia and New Guinea,” says Dr Leo Joseph, Director of CSIRO’s Australian National Wildlife Collection and co-author of the study.

Dr Leo Jospeh

“The research team’s quest has been to understand the true places of parrots such as the Night Parrot and the tiger-parrots in the ecological and evolutionary history of parrots across the Australian continent,” he says.
“During our research on these oddball parrots of Australia and New Guinea, we affirmed that the Australian parrots are far from one cohesive group. They appear, instead, to be made up of about five different main branches of the parrot evolutionary tree.”
The research has also shown that the New Guinea tiger-parrots are not rosella-like parrots as had been previously assumed. “Their resemblance in some aspects of their appearance to rosellas probably indicates some plumage characters that have been part of the evolution of parrots of Australia and New Guinea for a long time,” says Joseph. “We also showed, because we included so many other parrots, that they aren’t even part of the Asian and African assemblage with which they have even more often been associated.”

The article, Molecular systematics of two enigmatic genera Psittacella and Pezoporus illuminate the ecological radiation of Australo-Papuan parrots (Aves: Psittaciformes) by Leo Joseph, Alicia Toon, Erin E. Schirtzinger and Timothy F. Wright is published in  Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2011.03.017.

In main picture: Eastern rosella. Photo courtesy of Quinta91.

Picture inset: Dr Leo Joseph, Director of CSIRO's Australian National Wildlife Collection, with some of the Collection's specimens of tiger-parrots. Photo courtesy of CSIRO.

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