To study Galápagos cormorants, a geneticist gets creative | Science News


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To study Galápagos cormorants, a geneticist gets creative

Scientist calls on community to get DNA samples from bird species

7:52am, September 19, 2016

GROUNDED  Unlike short-winged Galápagos cormorants (left), double-crested cormorants (right) and all other species have a wingspan meant for flying.

Galápagos cormorants are the only flightless cormorant species. Their wings are too small to lift their heavy bodies. To trace the genetic changes responsible for the birds’ shrunken wings, Alejandro Burga needed DNA from the grounded bird and from a few related species. For the UCLA evolutionary geneticist, getting the right DNA was a yearlong effort.

After Galápagos cormorants (Phalacrocorax harrisi) split off from other cormorants, their wings shrunk to 19 centimeters long and their bodies grew to 3.6 kilograms, not a flying-friendly combination. Burga suspected he would have difficulty getting permission to collect DNA from the endangered birds. So he e-mailed “anybody who had ever published anything on cormorants” in the last 20 years, he says.

He found disease ecologist Patricia Parker of the University of Missouri-St. Louis who had collected blood from Galápagos cormorants in 2000 to monitor the spread of pathogens. Getting to the

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