June 17, 2014
Highway development may isolate bird populations in Brazil, Peru
When a massive road project connected the ports of Brazil to the shipping docks of Peru in 2011, spanning the South American continent, conservationists predicted widespread impacts on wildlife living along the route that stretches almost 5,500 kilometers (about 3,400 miles). Roads are a well-documented source of habitat fragmentation, interfering with access to available habitat for many terrestrial and tree-dwelling species. However, it wasn’t clear whether or not birds are able to fly over these barriers. George Olah, a biologist from the Australian National University, set out to see if they can.
Olah was already studying the genetics of scarlet macaws (Ara macao) in a remote area of southeastern Peru when the Transoceanic Highway was built through the middle of his research area. He realized that the forensic genetics techniques he was using to learn more about the local macaw population might also uncover evidence of the road’s impact on the birds.