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The Passenger Pigeon: A Century of Extinction

samzenpus posted about 4 months ago | from the coming-soon dept.

Biotech 108

An anonymous reader writes On September 1, 1914, Martha, the last passenger pigeon was found dead in her aviary at the Cincinnati Zoo. When the first European settlers arrived in North America at least one of every four birds on the continent was a passenger pigeon, making them the most numerous birds in North America, and perhaps in the world. From the article: "But extinction apparently doesn't ring with the finality it used to. Researchers are working to 'de-extinct' the bird. They got their hands on some of the 1,500 or so known passenger pigeon specimens and are hoping to resurrect the species through some Jurassic Park-like genetic engineering. Instead of using frog DNA to fill out the missing parts of a dinosaur's genetic code as in Michael Crichton's story, the real-life 'bring-back-the-passenger pigeon' researchers are using the bird's closest relative, the band-tailed pigeon.

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Talk about an old post... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799471)

This one is over a year old... and just reposted.

Re:Talk about an old post... (5, Funny)

Chrisq (894406) | about 4 months ago | (#47799523)

This one is over a year old... and just reposted.

Not just Reposted, reconstructed from the DNA of the old one

Re:Talk about an old post... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799789)

Tell me you didn't use the MyCleanPC DNA.

Re:Talk about an old post... (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about 4 months ago | (#47800403)

And "No expense was spared."

Re:Talk about an old post... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799525)

What, September 1, 2014 was a year ago!??! I've lost a year!

Re:Talk about an old post... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799925)

No - March 15, 2013 :)

Re:Talk about an old post... (3, Insightful)

PhilHibbs (4537) | about 4 months ago | (#47799539)

It's worse than that, it's exactly 100 years old today.

Will it taste the same? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799527)

I can't wait to make it extinct again!

Practise... (1)

hooiberg (1789158) | about 4 months ago | (#47799529)

...before finally reconstructing a dodo, which is, after all, also a pigeon.

Re: Practise... (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799591)

Reconstruct the dodo? Why bother when there are already a bunch of them running the United States government?

No, no, no (2, Interesting)

hooiberg (1789158) | about 4 months ago | (#47799611)

You got it all wrong. They are lizards! There is proof: http://www.thewire.com/nationa... [thewire.com] 12 million Americans cannot all be wrong.

Re:No, no, no (0)

skipkent (1510) | about 4 months ago | (#47799635)

You got it all wrong. They are lizards! There is proof: http://www.thewire.com/nationa... [thewire.com]
12 million Americans cannot all be wrong.

Sad that only 12 million are right! Here is a 6 hour interview with Credo Mutwa, the Zulu Shaman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] - Credo Mutwa interviewed by David Icke - The Reptilian Agenda

Re:No, no, no (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 4 months ago | (#47799897)

Here is a 6 hour interview with Credo Mutwa, the Zulu Shaman. https://www.youtube.com/watch [youtube.com] ?... [youtube.com] - Credo Mutwa interviewed by David Icke - The Reptilian Agenda

6 hours of two deluded people talking about their shared delusion doesn't constitute evidence, if that's what you were hoping we'd take it as.

I might appropriate "Credo" as a nickname for someone who'll believe anything.

Re:No, no, no (1)

hooiberg (1789158) | about 4 months ago | (#47799993)

Oh, come'on. Nothing about this thread is serious. ;-) (Although admittedly it would be cool to have dodos again.)

Frog DNA? (1)

anyanka (1953414) | about 4 months ago | (#47799531)

I'd guess bird DNA would be better – for both cases....

Re:Frog DNA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799707)

I'd guess bird DNA would be better – for both cases....

Just like that Loverboy song says, "frog and pigeon DNA just won't splice."

I'm not understanding "missing DNA"... (2)

tlambert (566799) | about 4 months ago | (#47799573)

I'm not understanding "missing DNA"... if they think there is "missing DNA",and they have 1,500 specimens, all less than 2-300 years old, they need to talk to J. Craig Venter, because they're doing it wrong.

Re:I'm not understanding "missing DNA"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47800013)

I was thinking the same thing, isn't this about as fresh as DNA gets in the grand scheme of things? There shouldn't be any gaps, surely?

Not stored under archival conditions (2)

davidwr (791652) | about 4 months ago | (#47800639)

Organic matter decays over time, especially when it's not stored under "ideal conditions."

If you dug up 1500 people that had been dead and buried for 100 years, I bet you would have to work hard to get a sample of every stretch of the human DNA map. The only saving grace might be if the bodies were in a sealed casket or which were otherwise very well-preserved in a way that protected the DNA from decay.

On the other hand, if you stored 1500 freshly-dead people or birds today in a way to minimize DNA degradation and kept them that way for 100 years from now, our descendants in 2014 would have a much easier time with it, and that's not counting whatever technological advances come along over the next 100 years.

Re:I'm not understanding "missing DNA"... (1)

paul.hatchman (958948) | about 4 months ago | (#47804073)

Museum specimens were commonly preserved with formaldehyde, which damages DNA.

Happened to Netscape Navigator and IE, too. (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799581)

This is a lot like what happened to both Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer.

Both were wildly successful at one time, at well over 90% of the browser market share. But then each was decimated. Netscape Navigator was totally destroyed, and rendered extinct. Netscape Navigator became the Passenger Pigeon. IE, Navigator's successor, is now on the same path. Once representing 90% of the market, it is now down to 20% at most. It, too, could very well be practically extinct within a few years.

But it is Chrome that needs to fear the most. It is the most used browser today, but it sees nowhere near the usage that Navigator and IE saw at their peaks. Chrome, too, could go the way of the Passenger Pigeon. All it would take is Mozilla undoing the stupidity that they have brought upon Firefox lately. If they canned the shitty designers who have ruined Firefox's UI, and brought back people who know what they're doing, Firefox could potentially crush Chrome. All that Firefox needs is a return to a good UI, and some fixes for the long-standing performance and memory usage issues, and it'd be a real contender again. Firefox could make Chrome become the Passenger Pigeon.

Firefox 1.0 is largely Netscape 8. Mozilla == Moz (3, Informative)

raymorris (2726007) | about 4 months ago | (#47799657)

You may recall Netscape's user-agent string was Mozilla. Within the company called Netscape, the browser was called Mozilla. The full name of Firefox is Mozilla Firefox.

Netscape was rebranded Mozilla Seamonkey. As Mozilla Seamonkey gained more and more features, some of the Mozilla (aka Netscape browser) people decided to make a version with some of the features removed to make it more streamlined, a lightweight version of the Mozilla browser, previously known as Netscape. They called this lightweight version of Netscape Firefox. *

*First they tried calling it Phoenix, which is an animal which is resurrected from it's own ashes. Somebody already had that name. A Phoenix is also known as a Firebird, but somebody already had that name, so they ended up with Firefox.

Re:Happened to Netscape Navigator and IE, too. (1)

sillybilly (668960) | about 4 months ago | (#47800485)

Screentshot of Netscape Navigator 3.04 Gold running on this bitch a couple days ago: http://i.imgur.com/i9WtAK2.png [imgur.com]

Ecosystem (2, Insightful)

wjcofkc (964165) | about 4 months ago | (#47799605)

If the Passenger Pigeon has been extinct for this long, it's safe to say that ecosystems have adjusted to their demise. Let's not see what the consequences of re-introducing them are. There is no way to predict the effect. If they are planning and engineering these hybrids just to study their work in captivity, well, that is just as wrong.

Ecosystem (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799639)

You are obviously a shill for big airlines and don't want the re-introduction of free flights via passenger pigeon because it will eat into your lucrative flight slot monopoly revenue.

Re:Ecosystem (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799651)

The consequences would be that the ecosystem would revert to a more natural state. We don't need to have sabre tooth cats running around killing these things to keep their population in check - domestic housecats would do the job very nicely. The simple fact is, these birds were here in enormous numbers, basically a big part of the definition of the North American ecosystem, and we screwed it up. If we can fix it, we should. Think of the additional tax revenue that could be gained from selling hunting licenses, the publicity for the environmental department, and if all they do is suck up some of the habitat that the pigeons have right now it's a great move and a good first step to bringing back more of God's creatures that man has dispatched during his infestation of the planet.

Re:Ecosystem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799923)

" We don't need to have sabre tooth cats running around killing "

Says you!

Re:Ecosystem (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799959)

The simple fact is, these birds were here in enormous numbers, basically a big part of the definition of the North American ecosystem, and we screwed it up.

This is actually a great possibility to assess if the idea that extinction of a species have catastrophic ramifications on an ecosystem.
By now it should be possible if removal of the passenger pigeon caused side effects that that harmed other parts of the ecosystem or if other parts of it just stepped in and filled the void.
Perhaps the experiment isn't a cautious as one would like but it has happened nonetheless. There should be some noticeable, and possibly interesting, change in the pigeons predators and prey.

Re:Ecosystem (4, Informative)

careysub (976506) | about 4 months ago | (#47800039)

The consequences would be that the ecosystem would revert to a more natural state. We don't need to have sabre tooth cats running around killing these things to keep their population in check - domestic housecats would do the job very nicely. The simple fact is, these birds were here in enormous numbers, basically a big part of the definition of the North American ecosystem, and we screwed it up....

The enormous numbers of the Passenger Pigeon actually suggest that they were the beneficiaries of an extreme environmental disruption that occurred a few centuries earlier: the sudden and dramatic disappearance on the large scale agricultural and horticultural societies of Native Americans when ~90% of the population died from successive onslaughts of pandemic disease brought by the arrival of populations from the Old World (Europeans and Africans).

European observers only ever got a look at pre-pandemic North America along the east coast, and the evidence there is of stunning change in the ecology.

Genetic studies of Passenger Pigeons [scientificamerican.com] have shown that the subabundance was a transient, new phenomenon. In the last million years the breeding population only averaged about 1/3 of a million, and sometimes as few as 50,000, and began a population upsurge 6,000 years ago. The enormous explosion to billions was much more recent than that.

The ecosystem for the PP were forests of nut-bearing trees, which the super-population of PPs could be seen to be damaging in their locust-like swarming and foraging, an unsustainable situation. These forests were not "natural" though, they were managed for thousands of years by Native America horticulturists who encouraged the development of large dense stands of edible nut trees.

When the Native American populations suddenly disappeared that left large stands of unexploited nut-food that allowed the PPs to break-out into the vast populations that were observed. Their habit of long distance migration in large groups was well suited for such an explosion, exploiting all of the nut-tree resources on North America.

Re:Ecosystem (3, Interesting)

russotto (537200) | about 4 months ago | (#47800195)

Their habit of long distance migration in large groups was well suited for such an explosion, exploiting all of the nut-tree resources on North America.

Unfortunately for the passenger pigeon, their favorite American Chestnut is no longer a nut-bearing species for most of its former range, thanks to the chestnut blight. So before you can re-introduce the passenger pigeon, you need to restore the chestnut -- which horticulturists have been trying, with limited success, for decades.

Re:Ecosystem (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 4 months ago | (#47800259)

So we finally restore the American Chestnut. Then passenger pigeons descend on the trees like locusts and decimate them.

The passenger pigeons WERE locust-like in the era before their extinction. It was a real problem for people wanting to farm.

Re:Ecosystem (1)

nospam007 (722110) | about 4 months ago | (#47800643)

"The passenger pigeons WERE locust-like in the era before their extinction. It was a real problem for people wanting to farm."

Why? The shit was delivered automatically onto the fields instead of the farmer hauling it there.

Re:Ecosystem (1)

russotto (537200) | about 4 months ago | (#47804003)

Because if the things producing the shit are eating your crop, getting a bunch of shit in return isn't really a good deal. It's not like they'd drop a load right after seeding.

Re:Ecosystem (3, Informative)

careysub (976506) | about 4 months ago | (#47800711)

Their habit of long distance migration in large groups was well suited for such an explosion, exploiting all of the nut-tree resources on North America.

Unfortunately for the passenger pigeon, their favorite American Chestnut is no longer a nut-bearing species for most of its former range, thanks to the chestnut blight. So before you can re-introduce the passenger pigeon, you need to restore the chestnut -- which horticulturists have been trying, with limited success, for decades.

You are correct that restoring the species successfully (assuming we can make viable breeding PPs) is a long shot. One of the problems is their colony-style breeding behavior. The aren't solitary nesters, but live and breed in large groups. Attempts to breed them in captivity failed.

The collapse of the population to zero seems to have proceeded in phases (3, I count): loss of forest food sources from cutting, extermination efforts (hunting and simple pest-control killing) which capitalized on the dense groups that made easy pickings, but then after PP extermination was circumscribed, the population continued to collapse since they were below the natural breeding population size. In its last couple of decades efforts to save them were being made, but they were unsuccessful. The genetically documented population "bottleneck", when the breeding population dropped to 50,000, might have been a single colony.

A similar situation occurred with the cheetah, which once dropped to fewer than a dozen individuals within the last 10,000 years. There is also evidence of humans bottlenecking with populations in the low thousands within the last 100,000 years.

Re:Ecosystem (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | about 4 months ago | (#47800283)

The enormous numbers of the Passenger Pigeon actually suggest that they were the beneficiaries of an extreme environmental disruption that occurred a few centuries earlier: the sudden and dramatic disappearance on the large scale agricultural and horticultural societies of Native Americans when ~90% of the population died from successive onslaughts of pandemic disease brought by the arrival of populations from the Old World (Europeans and Africans).

Is that an African or a European pigeonocide?

Re:Ecosystem (1)

sillybilly (668960) | about 4 months ago | (#47800509)

We really miss the Mammoth! Resurrect the Mammoth too ASAP please!

Re:Ecosystem (1)

haruchai (17472) | about 4 months ago | (#47800535)

I'd like to see more bison in the wild and wouldn't that give the hunters hardons

Re:Ecosystem (5, Insightful)

Tx (96709) | about 4 months ago | (#47799653)

"If the Passenger Pigeon has been extinct for this long, it's safe to say that ecosystems have adjusted to their demise."
If the ecosystems can adjust to their demise, then surely they could equally well adjust to their return?

"Let's not see what the consequences of re-introducing them are."
Why not? I'm curious.

"There is no way to predict the effect."
There 's no way to predict the effect of any given action or inaction. For all you know, reintroducing passenger pigeons could be the best thing ever to happen to the North American environment.

"If they are planning and engineering these hybrids just to study their work in captivity, well, that is just as wrong."
Why is it just as wrong? Something isn't true just because you say it is; try to provide some rationale behind the statement. You've stated concerns about re-introducing the critters to the wild, so surely studying them in captivity is the perfect solution.

Re:Ecosystem (1)

towermac (752159) | about 4 months ago | (#47799723)

"If the ecosystems can adjust to their demise, then surely they could equally well adjust to their return?"

That ecosystem you speak of... Um; that's us.

Just sayin.

Re:Ecosystem (3, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | about 4 months ago | (#47799907)

There were humans living alongside the passenger pigeon for thousands of years before European settlers arrived.

Anyway, this "readapting" of an ecosystem isn't necessarily a good thing. For example, the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet (the only parrot native to the eastern US) coincided with major spreading cockleburs in the US, as it was a major part of their diet. Are you a fan of cockleburs?

Re:Ecosystem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47800389)

The population in the Americas before European settlers arrived was about 50 million. Now it's near 1 billion people. It's really not the same ecosystem, we overrun it. As the person before you said, that ecosystem is now us and almost exclusively us.

Re:Ecosystem (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 4 months ago | (#47800745)

There were humans living alongside the passenger pigeon for thousands of years before European settlers arrived.

Just curious - were there 330,000,000 humans living alongside the passenger pigeons before European settlers arrived?

Didn't think so....

Re:Ecosystem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799769)

The gp poster hinted at the issue, but botched the explanation. More likely, the habitat disappeared leading to the passenger pigeon's demise.

The settlement of the Americas has done a lot to the landscape in the last 300 years. Odds are that there are no pre-settelment passenger pigeon friendly locales left. That doesn't imply that there are no post-settlement passenger pigeon friendly locales; but, if there were pre-settlement locales available, it would reduce one unknown: is there a niche in the environment (outside of controlled environments like zoos) that can support the passenger pigeon?

And the consequences of reintroducing them? Well, the cat's long out-of-the-bag on that one. We are now at the point of engineering our environment (albeit not engineering by plan, or with a goal). Our pollution is world-wide, we're altering the air's composition (not just CO2, but sulfur levels, acid rain, ash, etc (all less controversial than CO2)), we are destroying large areas of natural wildlife for residential housing, etc) I'd say it's not about consequences anymore. We're "dammed the consequences" for the last 200 years. We won't worry about the consequences till later.

And yes, there are ways to predict the effects. They are not perfect, but burying one's head in the sand, pretending it is unknowable is just a recent phenomenon of self-enforced stupidity. We tend to pretend that anything that is not personally knowable is unknowable by professionals. True, perfect knowledge is never obtained; however, perfect knowledge has never been necessary to do anything (although it is argued to be necessary to delay things). We landed men on the moon with imperfect knowledge, did the first heart transplants with imperfect knowledge, in fact everything we have today is the result of imperfect knowledge. Sometimes you only need to know 98% of the problem to solve it, because proving you know that last 2% won't change the outcome.

And don't tell me about wrong. Ethics and morality are subjects that most people aren't even introduced to outside of a church "our way is the all-ethical, all-moral way" setting. Most people aren't even introduced to the tools of ethical thinking, much less moral reasoning. It may very well be that bringing a species back from the dead is the penultimate moral act of good, after all, saving a life is morally good, and this is saving a life in the extreme.

Re:Ecosystem (1)

wjcofkc (964165) | about 4 months ago | (#47799785)

If the ecosystems can adjust to their demise, then surely they could equally well adjust to their return?
When a species goes extinct, the vacuum it leaves is filled by other species. When a new species is introduced, assuming it is successful, something else has to make way. Historically this is a bad thing. Have you not seen what's going on in Florida right now?

Why not? I'm curious.
Something isn't a good idea just because you are curious.

There 's no way to predict the effect of any given action or inaction. For all you know, reintroducing passenger pigeons could be the best thing ever to happen to the North American environment.
And for all you know? Re-read my first two replies to your comment.

Why is it just as wrong? Something isn't true just because you say it is; try to provide some rationale behind the statement.
And what precisely have you offered in that way in you're comment? Absolutely nothing. If you want to play that game, it works both ways.

Re:Ecosystem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799835)

If the ecosystems can adjust to their demise, then surely they could equally well adjust to their return?

No. It does not work that way. The ecosystem now has changed a lot in the past 100+ years. There are now 350 million humans & factory farms blanketing their former domain. There are gypsy moths & fire ants & a struggling honeybee population. "Adjusting" to a different species mix could easily mean morphing into a form that is significantly undesirable.(replacing cod populations with jellyfish is "adjusting", desertification is "adjusting")

Reintroducing a species that bred to preposterous numbers and had no effective predators is an obvious disaster.
"Sorry, no oranges in North America this year, the passenger pigeons wrecked the orchards"
"Oops, the honeybees all died because of pigeon-borne mites"
"U.S. corn production dropped 12% due to pigeon based field damage. Food riots have broken out in poor nations due to the resultant price increases."

Re:Ecosystem (1)

Rei (128717) | about 4 months ago | (#47799999)

Passenger pigeons mainly ate tree nuts, particularly acorns, for most of the year. So they had a big effect on controlling tree distribution - in particular red oak has taken over from white oak after their demise in their former habitats (white oak is a slightly more valuable timber tree, FYI). During the summer they would also eat berries. They would sometimes steal grain from farmers but it wasn't a main part of their diet. They additionally consumed insects such as caterpillars and snails, so they did some good for farmers as well.

FYI, honeybees aren't native to the US. And colony populations are totally artificial, as people can raise as many colonies as they want, queens are mass-raised (you can mail order them) and the only limiting factor on the number of honeybees is the number of hives raised by beekeepers. Colony losses are a financial hit to beekepers but they're no threat to the species or the usage of honey bees for pollination (only the economics of their usage). And the increase in the rate of colony loss is way overplayed.

Re:Ecosystem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47803511)

The pigeons also ate chestnuts, until the American chestnut was obliterated by the introduced chestnut blight fungus from Asia.

Re:Ecosystem (1)

DogDude (805747) | about 4 months ago | (#47800109)

Oh, please. Introducing one more species to our ecosystem isn't going to have any effect at all, relative to everything humans have done to the ecosystem.

Re:Ecosystem (2)

towermac (752159) | about 4 months ago | (#47799713)

I've been reading about them with all the articles these past few days.

They would come in their billions. Let's not pretend any of us knows what that means, but an idea, is seeing a flock of thousands that disappear into the distance, and that keeps coming for 3 days. They would cover an area, thoroughly removing every single nut, acorn, bug, worm, seed; leaving inches of dung behind. Anywhere they roosted, thousands to single tree; it would take years for the ground plants to recover from the droppings. From what I've read, everywhere they had been, they left absolutely nothing behind, but broken branches and denuded ground.

Seems like any possible reintroduction is going to be a hard sell.

Re: Ecosystem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799867)

They probably will never reach those numbers, ever again. On the other hand unchecked hunting is what killed them off.. Literally rolling up on the thousands and just blasting away at them.. Not to eat or stuff, just as target practice. The only real difficulty might be if they need "super flocks" to survive, versus modern pigeons that thrive in small groups.

Re:Ecosystem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799981)

Inches of dung!!!

Talk about valuable - that is also called "FREE FERTILIZER".

First, pigeons don't eat nuts. They will eat seed, grain, insects, some fruit and some plants.

And at the time the flocks landed, there are very few grains available, but lots of insects.

So "FREE BUG ERADICATION".

Which will help some of the forests that are being denuded by various moth larvae that don't have much in the way of predators...

Re:Ecosystem (2)

towermac (752159) | about 4 months ago | (#47800831)

"First, pigeons don't eat nuts."

Yes, they did. The acorn of the white oak was their main diet. (Acorns are nuts, right?) Anyway;

"Which will help some of the forests that are being denuded by various moth larvae that don't have much in the way of predators..."

That is a really good one. I said it would be a hard sell before; that could be the closer...

Re:Ecosystem (1, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | about 4 months ago | (#47800041)

it would take years for the ground plants to recover

Citation needed. Bird manure is one of the best natural fertilizers in existence. Have you seen what people charge for chicken manure? It's outrageous. Now, it's a concentrated enough fertilizer that you have to use it more like a chemical fertilizer than a soil suppliment - so it's possible that the pigeons would "nutrient burn" a location. But that's short term, in the long term that means leaving the area incredibly lush. And not to mention full of seeds in their droppings.

Trees and many smaller plants primarily cater to birds as their seed distributors.

Re:Ecosystem (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 4 months ago | (#47800287)

Some bird manure is a good thing. It's very easy for there to be too much of a good thing. Like, say, the big manure lagoons around a large-scale hog farm. I doubt if an inch thick layer of bird manure is good for a field.

Re:Ecosystem (2)

towermac (752159) | about 4 months ago | (#47800761)

If you really needed a citation, there's a recent article on BBC and Wikipedia.

But the historical accounts detail them breaking branches of trees, they would roost so thickly. Piling on each other's backs even. You don't have to be an expert in poop to realize that inches piled up overnight, or even days, will take a very long time to become a beautiful field of flowers again.

Now, as this thread has filled out, I have learned some things, and maybe it's unlikely they would reach those numbers again if they were reintroduced. But they were at those numbers for well over a hundred years, and possibly much longer.

In principle, I am always for the restoration of nature as much as possible.

It's just that I was looking at the little finches and humming birds and squirrels that love my yard when I wrote my previous post, and thinking of how they would all have to die, if a flock of passenger pigeons were to come here.

Re:Ecosystem (4, Insightful)

FalcDot (1224920) | about 4 months ago | (#47799741)

Have you ever read what happened in Yellowstone when the wolves were reintroduced?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H... [wikipedia.org]

Now, okay, the wolf is an apex predator who has a much bigger effect on the ecosystem than a pigeon. But I believe this is one of the best examples you can give that putting species back where they've gone extinct can have some very beneficial effects.

Re:Ecosystem (1)

ultranova (717540) | about 4 months ago | (#47801241)

If the Passenger Pigeon has been extinct for this long, it's safe to say that ecosystems have adjusted to their demise. Let's not see what the consequences of re-introducing them are.

AFAIK there wasn't any dramatic changes when the PP went extinct, so whatever function they had, some other species took over - in engineering terms, the ecosystem switched to using Backup Pigeon System. If so, then re-introducing Passenger Pigeon is analogous to getting primary system back online, which is a good thing both because it re-introduces a layer of redundancy, as well as allows the ecosystem to return to the balance its species have evolved into (and haven't have time to evolve out of), thus giving much-needed stress reduction on a system already facing enough challenges.

Richard Attenborough is dead (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799663)

Somebody still wants to make his pigeons, eh? Well he was the one who proved he could do it, let's see if these new fellas are up to the task.

And thanks to solar power plants (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799673)

we can just burn them out of the skies!

hungry, anyone?

Slaughter it was indeed (1)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | about 4 months ago | (#47799675)

I read as a child stories from 'James Fenimore Cooper', not sure if it was mentioned in one of the 'The Leatherstocking Tales' or another one.
Anyway, a town prepared for the birds, they armed cannons with pellet ammunition. Cannons, not mere rifles! While the fighting in those stories already was tough, for a child, the massacre on the birds I never understood, until I read about other animal massacres ... baby seals got killed up into the late 1990s, unbelievable, elephants are still killed in the 10,000ds per year, and we likely only have 50k left.

Re: Slaughter it was indeed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47800783)

Still clubbing baby seals in Canada. Don't know why Canada is so mad at Japan for killing dolphins or Norway for killing whales...

Farmers will be delighted... (1)

tonique (1176513) | about 4 months ago | (#47799703)

If this happens, farmers will be delighted when a ten-million bird flock descends on the fields.

Re:Farmers will be delighted... (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about 4 months ago | (#47799735)

more like New Yorkers will be thrilled with 10 million new pigeons crapping everywhere.

Re:Farmers will be delighted... (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 4 months ago | (#47800301)

More like New Yorkers will be thrilled when there's no lettuce or carrots because of what the pigeons did to the farmers' fields.

Re:Farmers will be delighted... (1)

Rei (128717) | about 4 months ago | (#47800097)

Passenger pigeons were not primarily a grain species, although they would eat grain when other preferred foods were in short supply. Part of the reasons the flocks increasingly turned to grain with time is due to the cutting and burning of many of their native forests to make room for farmland (and with an average lifespan in captivity of 15 years, probably half that in the wild, populations don't readjust right away). They were a migratory species, of course, but the habitat destruction was going on all over their range. If you get rid of the oaks and chestnuts in an area and the only other food option is grain, of course they're going to eat that. They also ate insects, mainly when breeding.

When you're talking about reintroducing a species from scratch, obviously the issues of what to do if a billion birds come into the area is totally inapplicable. The forests capable of supporting those numbers are gone. Birds that primarily consume seeds and grains are a much bigger threat to farmers than birds with a primary focus on nuts like the passenger pigeon.

Déjà vu (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799729)

"A déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something." such as our desire to read /.

cultural knowledge irrevocably lost (3, Interesting)

cmdr_tofu (826352) | about 4 months ago | (#47799755)

I think it would make more sense to simply create a more bird-friendly environment (ie more sustainable development, no hunting, allow for return of wild forested spaces) and if there is a role for a passenger pigeon-like bird it will eventually be occupied by an existing bird species and those with passenger pigeon-like traits will be the most successful.

The passenger pigeon was killed by
1) overhunting - presumably, we can stop that, but we are doing the same thing to fish right now - what reason do we have to believe we would not immediate overhunt pigeons back to extinction?
2) habitat loss - we haven't done anything to address this. If anything in the past 100 years we've made the problem worse. Development is both good and bad, but for preserving natural habitats, we have not really solved all problems (or arguably even prioritized) allowing development in a way which is sustainable in terms of natural resources and does not threaten wildlife habitats.

Could passenger pigeons start over "from ground zero"? If they could be in a lab, I am very skeptical that such populations would survive.

I imagine if Kang and Kodoss ate all the humans and reduced all human works to rubble and poisone, then genetically engineered a bunch of humans and left them on the planet and said "go repopulate". It just would not work.

Birds are intelligent animals, require long developmental periods (with care of their already-able parents) and form complex social networks that allow them to thrive in adverse conditions. http://rstb.royalsocietypublis... [royalsocie...ishing.org] Passenger pigeons would migrate 1000s of miles depending on weather patterns, and used decision-making processes we have yet to understand.

Re:cultural knowledge irrevocably lost (1)

PPH (736903) | about 4 months ago | (#47800161)

overhunting

Not so much of a problem anymore. People don't often hunt for sustenance anymore. Mostly for sport.

habitat loss

I don't know how similar passenger pigeons are to their modern relatives. But it would seem that they could easily adapt to urban life, given enough cars and statues to shit on. The problem here would be, which species would survive the competition for the good habitat? This could end up being another spotted owl vs barred owl story. Where the stronger species drives the weaker one into the worst habitat, like old growth forests.

Re:cultural knowledge irrevocably lost (1)

cmdr_tofu (826352) | about 4 months ago | (#47800275)

overhunting

Not so much of a problem anymore. People don't often hunt for sustenance anymore. Mostly for sport.

It wasn't sustenance hunting (at least not in the 19th century), but a mechanized industrialized hunting, processing and selling of passenger pigeons. Pretty much the same thing we are doing to the oceans. From Wikipedia "pigeon meat was commercialized as a cheap food for slaves and the poor in the 19th century, resulting in hunting on a massive and mechanized scale." ... "At a nesting site in Petoskey, Michigan in 1878, 50,000 birds were killed each day for nearly five months."

Re:cultural knowledge irrevocably lost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47801247)

It wasn't sustenance hunting ...

"pigeon meat was commercialized as a cheap food for slaves and the poor in the 19th century, ..."

That's one kind of sustenance hunting. Killing wild animals as a food source.

Birds smart? (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 4 months ago | (#47800665)

If birds were really smart, Chicken Run [wikipedia.org] would be non-fiction.

Re:cultural knowledge irrevocably lost (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 4 months ago | (#47800751)

I imagine if Kang and Kodoss ate all the humans

See Drop Table People [xkcd.com]

Oh you meant "Eat table people". My bad.

Quick flyby (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799771)

"On September 1, 1914, Martha, the last passenger pigeon was found dead in her aviary at the Cincinnati Zoo."

And nobody back then suspected fowl play?

Re:Quick flyby (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 4 months ago | (#47799903)

Where was Muttley?

Re:Quick flyby (1)

Rei (128717) | about 4 months ago | (#47800107)

Ugh... puns. :( Are you just trying to ruffle peoples' feathers here?

Re:Quick flyby (1)

91degrees (207121) | about 4 months ago | (#47800115)

They watched the suspects like hawks. Pulled in the crows suspecting murder. They were given the bird. Even the canary didn't sing.

One reason they are extinct (5, Interesting)

joneil (677771) | about 4 months ago | (#47799773)

One thing almost always missing whenever the Passenger Pidgeon is talked about is how our pioneer ancestors considered them a major pest and threat.

    Old wood cuts and descriptions from a couple of centuries ago describe how a large flock of these birds would decend on a farm and inside a few hours completely eat all the food (grain), leaving a family to face certian starvation. Remember , back then, there are no food stamps, no food banks, no state welfare, etc. Starvation was very real and people did die of it.

    I am NOT excusing or apologizing or in any way, shape or form trying to justify what happened, but I am trying to point out that events in history, both good and bad, usually happens for a reason. Rightly or wrongly, our pioneer ancestors often looked upon the passenger pidgeon in almost the same way we look at the cockroach today. That is the major reason they were wiped out. The problem, as I see it, is history today portrays the extinction of the passenger pidgeon as the result of a bunch of people just killing for fun or no reason at all. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Along the same lines, wolves were wiped out because they were seen as a threat to livestock in many areas. Groundhogs and gophers killed because thier holes were dangerous for horses who stepped into them and broke legs. Buffalo where killed because they were a major food source for native americans during the Indian Wars. The list goes on and on. Again, not saying it was a good or just reason, it might of been a terrrible reason, a horrible reason, but there was still a reason these things happened.

Re:One reason they are extinct (1)

rgbatduke (1231380) | about 4 months ago | (#47800029)

So you're saying that we should instead be trying to re-introduce something a bit more innocuous, like smallpox or giant locusts or Dire Wolves?

Makes sense to me. But I mostly like the idea (following) of re-introducing the Carolina Parakeet. Or Wooly Mammoths. I bet they'd love Alaska, and it would give certain people something new to hunt to distract them from the pursuit of dangerous activities, like running for president. Besides, why should Africa and Asia have all of the really dangerous large mammals? We have nothing larger than a coyote to worry about in Durham, and the only human-relevant animals at risk from them are small yappy dogs and the occasional fat baby. Now a Dire Wolf -- that would be really cool. Since there isn't a large enough food supply, they'd almost instantly start predating on humans and livestock. Take that India! Finally, our man-eaters can stand up to yours and America no longer needs to hang its head in shame!

Or, I dunno, do Dire Wolves eat Passenger Pigeons? Do Passenger Pigeons eat Kudzu? Do Snakeheads eat Lionfish? Can Lionfish adapt to freshwater and eat Zebra Mussels? I'm feeling a full resculpting of the US ecology here...

rgb

Re:One reason they are extinct (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | about 4 months ago | (#47800367)

We should try to reintroduce the giant sloths, which were driven to extinction by the earlier human settlers to North America.

Bad choice (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | about 4 months ago | (#47799787)

The passenger pigeon is a blight on humanity. Bring back a bird worth having, like the Carolina parakeet.

Re:Bad choice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799945)

Yup, Carolina parakeet. Bring back something poisonous from the grave, what could go wrong?*

*Blood sucking lawyer agrees too.

Bring back the most prolific flying rat in history (1)

pecosdave (536896) | about 4 months ago | (#47799831)

Do we really want to bring back the prolific flying-rat in recorded history?

I saw we make the urban pigeon join them instead.....

They're all dead, Jim (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799855)

Are you sure, Bones?

God dammit, Jim, I'm a fucking doctor! I know death! I can see it! I can smell it! I can taste it!

Keep seeing "unextinction through DNA" posts. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799929)

Has any species actually been successfully brought back from extinction yet?

Re:Keep seeing "unextinction through DNA" posts. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47800339)

The triceratops that Spielberg killed.

mod 0p (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47799967)

to work I'm doing, accounts for less new faces and many locating #GNAA, Declined 1n market Nearly two years time wholeso8e and year contract. Of events today,

Passenger Pigeons? (1)

HouseOfMisterE (659953) | about 4 months ago | (#47800019)

How big were these things?

Re:Passenger Pigeons? (1)

u38cg (607297) | about 4 months ago | (#47800091)

Only slightly smaller than a regular pigeon, or at least the specimens I've seen are. Though one can never be certain with taxidermy...

Re:Passenger Pigeons? (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | about 4 months ago | (#47800293)

Was that an African or a European pigeon?

Re:Passenger Pigeons? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47800375)

We should bring back the 400 passengers pigeon.

Missing parts? (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 4 months ago | (#47800569)

Here's hoping they can get enough nuclear DNA that whatever "Franken-bird" they create will be 100% carrier pigeon, at least DNA-wise.

As for the rest of the cell that starts the whole thing off, it will probably have to be a donor cell from a closely related bird. This probably means the result will have non-carrier-pigeon mitochondrial DNA.

On a related topic, if scientists figure out how to do this with birds then they replicate the process with humans, using human nuclear DNA, a non-human donor cell, and a non-human surrogate mother, will most countries of the world recognize the result as a "person" for legal reasons?

Statues and windshields beware (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47800677)

Just what we need. More pigeons to crap on everything.

And why (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47801359)

do we need to bring back this sub-species of flying rats?! As if there were not already way too many flying rats...ask anyone who lives in in a big city. Hell, we even have problems with them in a rural town of 27,000!!

Gosh! (1)

musth (901919) | about 4 months ago | (#47801467)

Ain't technology great!

Today's pigeons are an invasive species (0)

walterbyrd (182728) | about 4 months ago | (#47801665)

They were brought over from Europe.

So the passenger pigeons were replaced by European pigeons.

That's my understanding.

Initiated by humans, finished by the birds (1)

Dereck1701 (1922824) | about 4 months ago | (#47802555)

The species seems to have been susceptible to extinction from the get-go. Its not like humans wiped them out down to a last few flocks. People did over hunt them to be sure, but a species that required flock groups of tens to hundreds of thousands to propagate would seem to me to be living on borrowed time. Attempts to breed them in captivity failed because of the massive numbers that seem to be required. So this effort to reintroduce the population will require quite an effort, they will need a first generation in the tens of thousands at a minimum.

A remake of The Birds anyone? (1)

WinstonWolfIT (1550079) | about 4 months ago | (#47802593)

The Coen Brothers do an homage of Hitchcock perhaps.

At the risk of sounding like a Luddite... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47803721)

They can't do this. They don't have the passenger pigeon DNA, not one copy, apparently, 100% intact, and you'd need dozens at LEAST to give you anything LIKE enough genetic variability for successive generations of the resurrected species to reproduce and create healthy, viable, not horribly deformed due to extreme inbreeding specimens. Unless you know the nucleotide base sequences that you're missing are IN FACT the same as the ones you're splicing in, even if your crime against nature, thing that should not be LIVES, it's not the same as what it was.

If I may be permitted an analogy, it'd be like finding a disc with the original Unix 1.0 on it, (or whatever, some early version) but there are bad sectors, and files that are at best corrupted, or even missing. You don't have the original source, nor a compiler capable of building from the source you don't have, nor can you reconstruct it EXACTLY how it was. Also, you no longer have any instances, nor instructions for how to build, ANY machine that COULD have run that first version of Unix.

So, you make a list of what's missing, and just #cp * them from a recent Debian GNU/Linux disc you have that has similar filenames, and directory structure.

Think that'd work? In actuality, it's more like building an executable with header files that are in a completely different programing language. Think THAT would work? And that's all BEFORE you address the problem that the original version was made to run on (pretend along with me here,) vacuum tubes, NOT transistors.

One more analogy, then I'll move on. Imagine if YOU died. Someone decides to resurrect you, but some of your DNA is missing, so they figure, "hey, a chimp is pretty close, right?" So they grab some chimpanzee DNA, and use sequences from THAT to rebuild your corpse, reanimate it, and pat themselves on the back and tell each other how awesome they all are for having brought YOU back to life. Well, no. They haven't. The result is not even CLOSE to who and what you were.

Now, about the "scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should" issue: whether or not you want to believe this, because of all the advertising effort spent convincing you otherwise, HUMAN BEINGS ARE NATURAL, AND EVERYTHING WE DO IS PART OF NATURE. If we're not, then beaver dams are ALSO not. Bee hives are not natural either, if we're not. You may call me mental, but everything is by definition either natural, or supernatural. The category, "artificial" is itself artificial, which is both ironic, and strangely appropriate. We used our NATURAL brains to figure out how to make fire and split atoms, how to throw rocks and fire intercontinental ballistic missiles. These are all natural, sorry to have to break it to any of you how are tree-humpers. A fake hip is just as natural as using a rock to bash apart another rock, or a shell to get at the contents. Birds use gravity and rocks to pop open tortoise shells, or turtles, whatever... this is all, in the strictest sense, NATURAL!!! So if as a natural process of our existence, other species around us die, well, so be-it. We probably shouldn't be DELIBERATELY trying to kill them, but if [whatever] all die, well, we are a species to be reckoned with, and just as we have historically had to adapt to others around us, so they must, if they want to survive, adapt to US if the want to see their kids be hatched or born or whatever, and grow up and have their own kids.

So they're gone, they should stay gone. Screwing around with the natural order was what killed them in the first place, the solution isn't MORE screwing around with forces they have NO WAY OF UNDERSTANDING, no matter how much they pretend to be experts, they simply DON'T KNOW, and should leave it well enough alone!

Re:At the risk of sounding like a Luddite... (1)

fldsofglry (2754803) | about 4 months ago | (#47803869)

They can't do this. They don't have the passenger pigeon DNA, not one copy, apparently, 100% intact, and you'd need dozens at LEAST to give you anything LIKE enough genetic variability for successive generations of the resurrected species to reproduce and create healthy, viable, not horribly deformed due to extreme inbreeding specimens.

Except that they do. It just takes a pinhead size portion of tissue to get the DNA. There are about 2000 species currently in museums, all with intact DNA.

who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47803961)

No one is thin enough to ride a passenger pigeons anymore...

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