The koloa is an endangered species of duck that lives in Hawaii. This species was once found across the Hawaiian Islands, but is now confined to four of the main islands thanks to the combined effects of hunting, loss of habitat and predation by invasive species. Captive breeding programs attempted to increase the numbers of purebred koloa on the islands but interbreeding with feral mallards compromised the efforts.
Researchers from University of California have now collected and analyzed DNA samples from koloa, mallards and hybrids from the main islands. From this information they were able to determine that while hybridization is common on three of the four main islands, on Kauai there is still a stronghold of pure bred koloa, and within this population there is high genetic diversity. This genetic diversity will be important for the future generations of koloa.
The study highlights that while breeding programs are important, it is essential to maintain a population of purebred koloa that outnumber the hybrid birds. Without this there can be no decrease in the proportion of hybrid to purebred birds, which contradicts previous theories. This new information could allow conservationist to modify their koloa reintroduction plans for other Hawaiian Islands, thus protecting the genetic diversity and ongoing health of the koloa.
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