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Laura Kiniry (1 post)
With more than 1,800 native avian species, Brazil is home to one of the most diverse bird populations on the planet. But each year, poachers capture hundreds of thousands of birds—including red-cowled cardinals, green-winged saltators, and buffy-fronted seedeaters—to sell as pets in towns and cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Luckily, Brazilian police are able to rescue many of these birds from homes, fairs, and cargo trucks—which is where 31-year-old doctoral student Juliana Machado Ferreira comes in.
A volunteer with wildlife organization SOS FAUNA, which aids law enforcement in their efforts against poachers and rehabilitates seized creatures, Ferreira is studying ways for science to ensure these rescued birds are returned to their home forests. Releasing the birds in the wrong place—and mixing animals from separate genetic populations—could lead to outbreeding depression, a phenomenon that can result in offspring that are poorly adapted to their environment. "By constructing a bird's genetic profile through DNA extraction and comparing it to the genetic populations within a species, I hope to determine its likely origin," Ferreira says. "That's the first step in reintegrating it."