Size matters! Flock numbers and new faces are important in boosting flamingo populations

Posted on: 26 January 2023

Flocking flamingos in groups of 50 or more and introducing new faces to a population may hold the keys to encouraging successful reproduction, according to a study published this month in Zoo Biology.

Size matters! Flock numbers and new faces are important in boosting flamingo populations

Researchers, including those from Trinity, used global data shared by zoos and aquariums to study reproductive success and factors such as climate, flock numbers, and an equal sex ratio in four species of flamingo in 540 ex situ populations worldwide. The zoos and aquariums curate data on groups of flamingos using the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS) provided by the non-profit Species360. 

The open-access paper in Zoo Biology looks at strategies for encouraging reproductive success in ex situ populations of flamingos (those living in zoological institutions like wildlife refuges, zoos, and aquariums such as Dublin Zoo). Population managers across the national and regional zoo and aquarium associations as well as other organisations can use this information to provide guidelines for protecting and sustaining flamingo populations.

The Conservation Science Alliance (CSA), a group of Species360 and University of Southern Denmark data analysts and population management scholars, collaborated with lead researcher Dr Andrew Mooney to complete the study. Dr Mooney is a Conservation and Research Officer at Dublin Zoo and former PhD student of the CSA and Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences. 

Applying modern analytics to ZIMS data the team found that to encourage reproduction and sustain populations, ex situ flamingo flocks should be as large as 50 – 100 individuals and consist of an even sex ratio. Additionally, adding new individuals to a flock can increase reproductive success in some cases, with climatic variables playing a limited role.

Lead researcher Dr Andrew Mooney said:

We utilised current and historic zoological records from Species360 member institutions to investigate how flock size and structure influence reproductive success in captive flamingos. We combined demographic data with high resolution global climatic data to gain a more complete view of what determines reproductive success in captive flamingo populations, while also revealing temporal trends in institutional flock sizes.

“We saw this first-hand at Dublin Zoo, where adding new birds to our Chilean flamingo flock stimulated reproduction in the subsequent year, while rainfall had little impact."

Dr Johanna Stärk, study co-author and researcher with University of Southern Denmark and the Species360 Conservation Science Alliance, said: 

“High quality data collected by Species360 members worldwide is critical for improving our understanding of what animals under human care need. At the Species360 Conservation Science Alliance, we aim to transform ZIMS data into real-world recommendations by working in close collaboration with researchers and species experts. This study is an excellent example of such a successful collaboration that could lead to more sustainable population management and improve global conservation efforts for flamingos.”

The study can be read on the publisher's website.

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