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Study finds island goshawk population unique and at risk

Cara J

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When Canadian ornithologist Percy Algernon Taverner examined the goshawks of Haida Gwaii in 1940, he noticed something unusual about them. The birds on these rugged islands, about 70 kilometers off the coast of British Columbia, were slightly darker than the northern goshawks nesting on the mainland. He designated them a subspecies, Accipiter gentilis laingi, distinct from most of the other goshawks (Accipiter gentilis atricapillus) distributed across the continent. Recently, biologists found, differences run deep between the Haida Gwaii goshawks and others — separated by perhaps 20,000 years of evolution. The last remnant of these distinct goshawks numbers only about 50. Surveys on Haida Gwaii have indicated the population is declining and at risk of extinction. “We don’t want to lose them,” said Darren Irwin, a University of British Columbia professor and senior author of a genomic study of the birds published in Evolutionary Applications. “It appears they’ve become adapted to the environment of Haida Gwaii and they’re a key part of the ecosystem.” Their findings, however, could create some wrinkles in conservation efforts. The subspecies, A. g. laingi, is presently considered to include all the goshawks throughout British Columbia’s Pacific Coast. The Canadian governments lists these birds, numbering about 1,200, as [...]

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