New Zealand’s rare, highly endangered alpine parrots may have headed for the mountains to avoid people – and researchers say their adaptability could help them survive the climate crisis.

The kea is considered the only alpine parrot in the world. But scientists analysing DNA sequencing and fossil records have found kea were once present in other parts of the country.

The news is something of a knock to the kea’s internationally unique “alpine parrot” status. But it may also be a saving grace for the endangered bird, making it more capable of surviving habitat loss or increased competition.

Being an alpine specialist can make species like kea particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis – as the planet heats, alpine environments retreat, more competitive lowland species push in, and species that adapted specifically to alpine conditions can be threatened with extinction. Research from Europe, for example, has found up to 22% of species studied on glaciers in the Italian Alps would disappear from the area once the glaciers had gone.

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