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A cryptic and critically endangered species revealed by mitochondrial DNA analyses: the Western Ground Parrot


We examined cytochrome b sequence data to resolve the intraspecific taxonomy of ground parrots Pezoporus wallicus. The species occurs in fragmented coastal heaths in south-eastern and south-western Australia. Net nucleotide divergences among all eastern populations were very low (0.0–0.6%) and genetic diversity unstructured, suggesting relatively recent common ancestry. Gene flow among them was probably maintained via land bridges and the persistence of suitable habitat during the Pleistocene. In contrast, net nucleotide divergence was high (4.4–5.1%) between western and eastern populations, suggesting more ancient divergence about 2 million years ago. The magnitude of divergence between eastern and western lineages is similar to a wide range of avian congeners. Our data support the need to reconsider the intraspecific taxonomy of ground parrots, and we cautiously suggest the recognition of Western Ground Parrots as a species, P. flaviventris, for conservation prioritization, planning and management purposes. Given their recent precipitous decline to approximately 110 individuals, most of which occur at one location, this makes Western Ground Parrots one of the world’s most threatened bird species.

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We thank South Coast NRM, Australian National Wildlife Collection Foundation, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, WA Dept. Environment and Conservation, Friends of the Western Ground Parrot and Exetel Pty Ltd. The following individuals played key roles in supporting this work: Abby Berryman, Walter Boles, Steve van Dyck, Stephen Garnett, Karen Gibb, Philippa Horton, Heather Janetzki, Ron Johnstone, Sarah Legge, Robert Palmer and Claire Stevenson. We also thank the Associate Editor and two anonymous referees whose comments improved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Stephen A. Murphy.

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Murphy, S.A., Joseph, L., Burbidge, A.H. et al. A cryptic and critically endangered species revealed by mitochondrial DNA analyses: the Western Ground Parrot. Conserv Genet 12, 595–600 (2011).

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  • Ground parrot
  • Cryptic species
  • Critically endangered