Philippine eagle has unique evolutionary history

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    Martin W

      From the Philippine Eagle Foundation:

      The country’s national bird, the Philippine Eagle, is one of a kind, not
      only because it is found nowhere else, but also since it has a unique
      evolutionary history, clearly distinguishing it from other giant eagles
      once thought of as its immediate family.

      At least this is what a recent study of the Philippine Eagles’ DNA suggests.

      Scientists from the University of Michigan USA analyzed DNA isolated from
      blood samples of Philippine Eagle and those of the Harpy Eagle and Crested
      Eagles of the Americas and the New Guinea Harpy Eagle of New Guinea, all
      equal heavy weights of the bird world. All of the last 3 giants named are
      close relatives as revealed by DNA sequences, but only remotely related to
      the Philippine Eagle.

      According to Dr. David Mindell of the University of Michigan, the
      Philippine Eagle was once grouped with 5 bird giants (the other two being
      the Crowned Eagle and the Solitary Eagle in the Americas) because all
      these species share extremely large size, with female wing-spans between
      1.5 to 2.0 m and female body weights from 6 to 9 kg.

      He also said that all of the 5 traditional “harpy eagle group” members
      live in tropical forests, feeding mainly on medium-sized mammals.

      “But based on the genetic analyses, the similarities between the
      Philippine Eagle and the other harpies resulted not from kinship but from
      convergent change, driven by natural selection for reproductive success in
      tropical forests and a shared taste for mammals”, Dr. Mindell added.

      Amazingly, Mindell’s team also found that the only distant relatives of
      Philippine Eagles are snake eagles found elsewhere in Southeast Asia and
      far Africa. In the Philippines, it is distantly related to the
      featherweight but equally imposing Serpent Eagle, which breeds in this
      country but is also common in Asia.

      The study of Dr, Mindell’s team passed expert reviews and was published in
      the scientific journal “Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution”.

      The country’s conservation flagship, the Philippine Eagle is undoubtedly a
      world celebrity. Dubbed “King of Birds”, this top forest predator is
      unrivaled by any Philippine wildlife in terms of local and international
      publicity and interest.

      The famous aviator Charles Lindbergh called it the “world’s noblest flyer”
      to call the world’s attention to its troubles. In 2000, famed scientist
      E.O. Wilson listed the Philippine Eagle in the Hundred Heart Beat Club –
      animals likely to become extinct in the near future.

      But all the fame and publicity has not spared the species from
      endangerment. Its population status remains precarious as recent estimates
      suggest that there may be 500 or fewer pairs of them left in the wild.

      Sadly, eagles are still losing the forests which they cannot live without.
      Barely 3 % of the country’s old growth forest remains, most of them
      threatened by expanding agriculture, illegal logging and mining.

      Many eagles are also still being shot or trapped, either for food, out of
      despair over livestock allegedly lost to nesting eagles, or out of plain
      curiosity and ignorance.

      In the face of deforestation and continued persecution, the future of our
      national bird remains bleak.

      According to Dennis Salvador, Philippine Eagle Foundation Executive
      Director, the recent finding of Dr. Mindell’s team definitely will not
      save the eagles overnight, but can be another compelling reason why
      Philippine Eagles need to be saved.

      “They are a unique and priceless component of the natural heritage not
      only of the Philippines but also of the world” he added.

      DNA is an abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid, the material of
      inheritance. It is made of chemicals which provide the instructions
      influencing how organisms should look and behave. Ask why a dog looks and
      acts like a dog, and humans not as chimpanzees, and you will find that the
      DNA is behind that.

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