|dc.description.abstract||The Cape parrot (Poicephalus robustus) is South Africa's only endemic parrot. It has
become increasingly rare in recent years, with fewer than 500 birds left in the wild,
and is now regarded as endangered. Possible factors contributing to this rapid decline
in numbers include habitat loss, food shortage, disease and illegal trafficking and
trading in the species. Habitat loss and food shortage have been brought about by the
rapid destruction of the yellowwood trees in the afromontane forests in South Africa
and have played a role in reducing the population numbers. The Psittacine beak and
feather disease virus (PBFDV) has also contributed to the loss of some individuals,
however it is the illegal trafficking of this rare and valuable species that has become
of great concern. As the Cape parrot is becoming increasingly rare and therefore
highly sought after, its commercial value has multiplied to the extent that illegal black
market trapping is on the rise.
The industry involved in breeding and conservation of endangered bird species, has a
need for the proper establishment of studbooks, containing all available information
on captive as well as tagged birds. Most of the information found in studbooks is
based on morphological attributes of individual birds. Although this is useful, there is a
need to add molecular information in order for complete identification of individuals,
particularly in a species threatened by illegal trading and theft. A preliminary analysis
of the amount of variation present in the population of interest is therefore required so
that appropriate methods and techniques can be developed to identify individual
birds. A RAPD analysis was conducted to assess the amount of variation in the Cape
parrot and lay the foundations for the establishment of individual identification in the
Blood samples from 30 parrots, consisting of both related and unrelated individuals,
were obtained from three separate locations: Amazona in Assagay, Rehoboth Farm
in Dargle, as well as from the Eastern Cape. 15 random primers were selected and used to conduct a randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) analysis. RAPDs are
extremely useful in situations where relatively inexpensive first approximations of the
genetic variation are needed, such as in rare and endangered species. After
successful optimisation of the technique in the species, the 15 primers were screened
for all 30 individuals and the individual DNA fingerprints, analysed.
Clear, distinctive and reliable DNA fingerprints were obtained for all individuals
however, it was interesting to note despite the analysis of 85 loci using the 15 primers
almost identical DNA fingerprints were produced between the individual birds. A
population analysis into the amount of variation present between and within the three
populations, as well as for the representative population as a whole, was conducted.
Using various statistical programmes such as POPGENE and ARLEQUIN,
heterozygosities, genetic distance measures, diversity indices, Wright's fixation index
and AMOVAs were estimated.
The amount of polymorphism detected in this investigation was 33 % and the
heterozygosity, 0.37, which is a relatively high value for the uniformity displayed in the
DNA profiles. The high GC content of the primers however, could be a possible
explanation thereof. Relationship and kinship determination, sex determination as
well as population assignment was possible despite not being able to identify each
individual based on unique DNA fingerprints.
The AMOVA analysis indicated significant variation on both the between (5.59 %) and
within (94.41 %) levels of analysis. Little variation or differentiation was observed
between the three subpopulations, which was confirmed with an FST value of 0.056.
The variation experienced within each subpopulation was analysed using Shannon's
index of phenotypic diversity. The Amazona population displayed the most variation
with a value of 0.286 and the Rehoboth population, the least with 0.195. This was
expected, with the individuals from the latter population comprising one extended
family. Nei's measures of genetic identity revealed that the individuals from Amazona were more similar to the Eastern Cape population, which was again expected with
regular exchanging of chicks between the two breeders.
RAPD technology was successful in laying the foundations for individual identification
in the Cape parrot. It was also successful in producing reproducible DNA fingerprints
in the species that were able to determine relatedness to some extent, determine the
sex of individuals and identify individuals from a particular subpopulation.
Furthermore RAPD analysis gave a good indication of the variation found in the Cape
parrot population, which is important for conservation purposes. In order to maximize
conservation efforts and strategies in an endangered species, determining the level of
genetic diversity and variation found in the remaining individuals of the population is
of great importance. This information could provide powerful insight for conservation
purposes and depending on the level of diversity detected, appropriate breeding
programmes could be set up in order to increase the genetic variation and thereby
reduce the chance of extinction of the species.
The following important findings emerged from this investigation:
• RAPD technology, once optimised for the species of interest, is successful in
producing clear and reliable DNA fingerprints, provided the same protocol is
followed carefully throughout the investigation.
• An optimised protocol for fingerprinting the Cape parrot using RAPDs was
• Possible sex identification, population assignment and a degree of kinship
determination was determined using RAPDs.
• Little variation was found within the representative Cape parrot population as a
whole due to small population size and possible inbreeding.
• As expected for an avian species, little genetic sub-division or differentiation
was observed between the three populations analysed.||en