Invasive parrots have varying impacts on biodiversity, people and the economy

Non-native parrots can cause substantial agricultural damage and threaten native biodiversity, although impacts vary strongly depending on where these parrots have been introduced, according to new research led by a University of Kent scientist.

Brought to Europe as pets, escaped or released parrots have established numerous wild populations across Europe. Tens of thousands of ring-necked and monk parakeets make up the bulk of Europe’s parrots, but several more species are gaining a foothold too.

A pan-European team of researchers, conservationists, wildlife managers and policy-makers, led by Professor Jim Groombridge of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation, worked together under the umbrella of ParrotNet.

They reviewed available evidence on parrot damage and concluded that measures to prevent parrots from invading new areas are paramount for limiting future harm.

Introduced parrots can damage the environment, but severe impacts are rare and localized. Most reports of damage were linked to the widespread and locally abundant ring-necked and monk parakeets. Studies show that in their native ranges, both species can and regularly do inflict large crop losses, but in Europe, expectations of comparable widespread and severe damage to agriculture have so far failed to materialize.

Based on the results of the study, the ParrotNet members published a ‘policy brief’, summarizing and discussing the implications of their findings for policy makers and wildlife managers.

Their recommendations include stricter regulation aimed at preventing parakeet introductions, rapid response when emerging populations are detected and better dissemination of information to the public about the impact parakeets can have. For example, using bird feeders that parakeets cannot access may help reduce the abundance of these birds in cities.

Professor Jim Groombridge, of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, said: ‘What should be done to minimize damage by invasive parakeets is ultimately up to policy-makers. But, as scientists, we stress that our work again highlights that the best way to combat invasive species is to prevent their introduction and spread.

‘Parakeet populations have already been successfully removed, for example, from islands such as the Seychelles, demonstrating that it is possible to stop them when prompt and decisive action is taken by governments. For the already established and large parakeet populations that can be found across parts of Europe, there is no “silver bullet” solution to the problems they may locally pose. More applied research is needed to find cost-effective and acceptable methods to reduce parakeet impacts in those areas where they do cause damage.’

For the study.  For the ParrotNet Policy Brief.