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Are Parrot's Wings Getting Longer?

The ringneck parrot is a common sight in Western Australia. It has recently been discovered that the wings of these beautiful birds are getting longer. The length of their wings has increased by four to five millimetres in the past 45 years. Why has this happened?

The Latest Research

It is research by the University of Notre Dame which has revealed the surprising wing growth in the parrots. Scientists studied specimens held at the WA Museum which included birds dating back to the early 20th century. These were compared to contemporary specimens and the changes to the bird’s anatomy soon became obvious.

Parrot Skins

The researchers studied what are known as skins which are held in large numbers by the museum. These are flat and easier to measure than the taxidermy specimens which are on display to the public. The oldest ringneck parrot specimen examined in the study dated back to 1904. This was collected by Western Australia's most famous bird collector, Frederick Lawson Whitlock.

Evolution and Climate Change

Professor Dylan Korczynskyj believes that the growth of the wings could have been caused by climate change. The extremities of animals in hot climates tend to be longer as this helps them to dissipate excess heat. It could be that the ringneck parrots have evolved to suit their changing environment. The biggest changes appear to have taken place in the last 45 years. This correlates with the increase in temperatures across the region over the same period.

Small Changes, Big Impact

Small changes in temperature could have big implications for all animals. In Western Australia the increase in temperature may only have been 0.1 to 0.2 degrees every 10 years but this has proved sufficient to cause the parrot’s wings to grow longer. Further research is required to establish the full impact of climate change of avian anatomy.

Other Animals and Plants

Meanwhile, scientists have also discovered than many species of animals and plants are actually shrinking over time due to climate change. Hotter temperatures mean than water supplies can be restricted and some species are adapting to these changes by growing smaller. This is because the smaller individuals of many species have a higher survival rate when water is limited. Fruit and shoots can be as much as 17% smaller for every degree of warming and fish up to 22% smaller. The situation has significant implications for human food supplies.

There can be no doubt that global warming is affecting every aspect of the natural world. It is vital that the full implications are understood and that everything possible is done to halt climate change in its tracks.

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