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Biotech Earth Science

The Passenger Pigeon: A Century of Extinction 108

An anonymous reader writes On September 1, 1914, Martha, the last passenger pigeon was found dead in her aviary at the Cincinnati Zoo. When the first European settlers arrived in North America at least one of every four birds on the continent was a passenger pigeon, making them the most numerous birds in North America, and perhaps in the world. From the article: "But extinction apparently doesn't ring with the finality it used to. Researchers are working to 'de-extinct' the bird. They got their hands on some of the 1,500 or so known passenger pigeon specimens and are hoping to resurrect the species through some Jurassic Park-like genetic engineering. Instead of using frog DNA to fill out the missing parts of a dinosaur's genetic code as in Michael Crichton's story, the real-life 'bring-back-the-passenger pigeon' researchers are using the bird's closest relative, the band-tailed pigeon.
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The Passenger Pigeon: A Century of Extinction

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  • No, no, no (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hooiberg ( 1789158 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @08:55AM (#47799611)
    You got it all wrong. They are lizards! There is proof: http://www.thewire.com/nationa... [thewire.com] 12 million Americans cannot all be wrong.
  • by cmdr_tofu ( 826352 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @09:46AM (#47799755) Homepage

    I think it would make more sense to simply create a more bird-friendly environment (ie more sustainable development, no hunting, allow for return of wild forested spaces) and if there is a role for a passenger pigeon-like bird it will eventually be occupied by an existing bird species and those with passenger pigeon-like traits will be the most successful.

    The passenger pigeon was killed by
    1) overhunting - presumably, we can stop that, but we are doing the same thing to fish right now - what reason do we have to believe we would not immediate overhunt pigeons back to extinction?
    2) habitat loss - we haven't done anything to address this. If anything in the past 100 years we've made the problem worse. Development is both good and bad, but for preserving natural habitats, we have not really solved all problems (or arguably even prioritized) allowing development in a way which is sustainable in terms of natural resources and does not threaten wildlife habitats.

    Could passenger pigeons start over "from ground zero"? If they could be in a lab, I am very skeptical that such populations would survive.

    I imagine if Kang and Kodoss ate all the humans and reduced all human works to rubble and poisone, then genetically engineered a bunch of humans and left them on the planet and said "go repopulate". It just would not work.

    Birds are intelligent animals, require long developmental periods (with care of their already-able parents) and form complex social networks that allow them to thrive in adverse conditions. http://rstb.royalsocietypublis... [royalsocie...ishing.org] Passenger pigeons would migrate 1000s of miles depending on weather patterns, and used decision-making processes we have yet to understand.

  • by joneil ( 677771 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @09:51AM (#47799773)

    One thing almost always missing whenever the Passenger Pidgeon is talked about is how our pioneer ancestors considered them a major pest and threat.

        Old wood cuts and descriptions from a couple of centuries ago describe how a large flock of these birds would decend on a farm and inside a few hours completely eat all the food (grain), leaving a family to face certian starvation. Remember , back then, there are no food stamps, no food banks, no state welfare, etc. Starvation was very real and people did die of it.

        I am NOT excusing or apologizing or in any way, shape or form trying to justify what happened, but I am trying to point out that events in history, both good and bad, usually happens for a reason. Rightly or wrongly, our pioneer ancestors often looked upon the passenger pidgeon in almost the same way we look at the cockroach today. That is the major reason they were wiped out. The problem, as I see it, is history today portrays the extinction of the passenger pidgeon as the result of a bunch of people just killing for fun or no reason at all. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

        Along the same lines, wolves were wiped out because they were seen as a threat to livestock in many areas. Groundhogs and gophers killed because thier holes were dangerous for horses who stepped into them and broke legs. Buffalo where killed because they were a major food source for native americans during the Indian Wars. The list goes on and on. Again, not saying it was a good or just reason, it might of been a terrrible reason, a horrible reason, but there was still a reason these things happened.

  • Re:Ecosystem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @10:24AM (#47799907) Homepage

    There were humans living alongside the passenger pigeon for thousands of years before European settlers arrived.

    Anyway, this "readapting" of an ecosystem isn't necessarily a good thing. For example, the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet (the only parrot native to the eastern US) coincided with major spreading cockleburs in the US, as it was a major part of their diet. Are you a fan of cockleburs?

  • Re:Ecosystem (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @10:50AM (#47800041) Homepage

    it would take years for the ground plants to recover

    Citation needed. Bird manure is one of the best natural fertilizers in existence. Have you seen what people charge for chicken manure? It's outrageous. Now, it's a concentrated enough fertilizer that you have to use it more like a chemical fertilizer than a soil suppliment - so it's possible that the pigeons would "nutrient burn" a location. But that's short term, in the long term that means leaving the area incredibly lush. And not to mention full of seeds in their droppings.

    Trees and many smaller plants primarily cater to birds as their seed distributors.

  • Re:Ecosystem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Monday September 01, 2014 @11:19AM (#47800195) Journal

    Their habit of long distance migration in large groups was well suited for such an explosion, exploiting all of the nut-tree resources on North America.

    Unfortunately for the passenger pigeon, their favorite American Chestnut is no longer a nut-bearing species for most of its former range, thanks to the chestnut blight. So before you can re-introduce the passenger pigeon, you need to restore the chestnut -- which horticulturists have been trying, with limited success, for decades.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle