Saturday 10 December 2016

It's pining for the tundra: Fossil shows parrots ventured into Siberia

Published 26/10/2016 | 00:11

Today's parrots prefer the tropics but the fossil shows they once lived as far north as Siberia
Today's parrots prefer the tropics but the fossil shows they once lived as far north as Siberia

To borrow a phrase from Monty Python, this bird has ceased to be and gone to meet its maker.

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But the dead parrot in question surprised scientists by shuffling off its mortal coil in Siberia more than 16 million years ago.

It is the first time a parrot fossil has been found in this region and suggests that the tropical birds were once widespread in Eurasia.

The single leg bone recovered from an island on Baikal Lake belonged to a small bird from the late Early Miocene epoch between 16 and 18 million years ago.

No other parrot fossil has been discovered so far north.

The find supports the theory that ancestors of modern parrots migrated from Asia to North America via the Berengia land bridge which once joined the two continents.

Today, parrots, or psittacines, make up almost 400 species that inhabit tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world.

Dr Nikita Zelenev, from the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, wrote in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters: "The presence of parrots as far north as Siberia supports their broad geographical distribution in Asia during Miocene and may have implications for the historical biogeography of Psittacoidea."

He added: "A dispersal of parrots via Beringia during the late Early Miocene is not completely unexpected.

"Today hummingbirds, which are also mostly tropical in their distribution, reach as far north as Alaska and during the warmest phase of the Miocene a more northern distribution of parrots in Asia was likely possible."

Press Association

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