Seabird campaign highlights value of species identification

PHYS.ORG

Dr. Graham Rowe was part of the academic research team that discovered the rare Henderson Petrel Pterodroma atrata several years ago on Henderson Island in the South Pacific.

The Henderson Petrel is in the national news this week with the RSPB announcing a partnership with the Pitcairn Islands government to save the Henderson Petrel from the threat of extinction by eradicating the introduced rats which are devastating its chicks and eggs on Henderson Island.

Dr. Rowe, a Senior Lecturer, and Programme Leader for Biology at the University of Derby, was part of a team led by Dr. Michael Brooke from the University of Cambridge, who used plumage colouration, body measurements, , vocalization (seabird calls), egg size and to help identify the endangered seabird.

The initially unrecognized Henderson Petrel had previously been considered to be the same as the more widespread Herald Petrel Pterodroma heraldica which also inhabits islands of the Pitcairn group. A comprehensive taxonomic review of the island’s petrels conducted by Dr. Brooke’s academic research team concluded the Henderson Petrel was a .

Dr. Rowe argues the RSPB and the UK Government would never have committed funds to the planned rat eradication process unless the taxonomic work identifying it as a distinct species had first been carried out.

Dr. Rowe said: “Molecular genetic techniques, such as DNA sequencing, have completely refreshed taxonomy which went through a period of being considered a rather dry subject.

“The case of the Henderson Petrel is an excellent example of modern taxonomic approaches being applied to definitively identify, and ultimately protect, an endangered species.”

“I am happy and proud that research I have done looks as if it will have a positive outcome for conservation of this species and others on Henderson Island.”

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