Australian researchers at Monash University have teamed up with Zoos Victoria to save the Critically Endangered Helmeted Honeyeater from extinction. The Helmeted Honeyeater is a small black-and-yellow songbird that is endemic to Victoria and is one of four subspecies of the Yellow-Tufted Honeyeater. The habitat of the Helmeted Honeyeater has been extensively degraded due to agriculture and invasive species. As a result, the population declined to just 50 birds by the 1990s. In order to improve the genetic health of the remaining Helmeted Honeyeaters, the researchers conducted a five-year breeding trial with their closest living relatives, the Gippsland Yellow-tufted Honeyeaters. The results showed that the admixed offspring had no signs of reduced fitness and even raised more nestlings compared to ‘pure’ pairs. This study highlights the potential benefits of genetic rescue in improving the genetic health and fitness of endangered species. The researchers are now considering using genetic rescue for other Critically Endangered species.
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