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Open Access Research article

Genetic evidence links invasive monk parakeet populations in the United States to the international pet trade

Michael A Russello12*, Michael L Avery3 and Timothy F Wright4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology and Physical Geography, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, British Columbia V1V 1V7, Canada

2 Centre for Species at Risk and Habitat Studies, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, British Columbia V1V 1V7, Canada

3 USDA Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center, Gainesville, Florida 32641, USA

4 Department of Biology, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:217  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-217

Published: 24 July 2008



Severe ecological and economic impacts caused by some invasive species make it imperative to understand the attributes that permit them to spread. A notorious crop pest across its native range in South America, the monk parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) has become established on four other continents, including growing populations in the United States. As a critical first step to studying mechanisms of invasion success in this species, here we elucidated the geographical and taxonomic history of the North American invasions of the monk parakeet. Specifically, we conducted a genetic assessment of current monk parakeet taxonomy based on mitochondrial DNA control region sequences from 73 museum specimens. These data supported comparative analyses of mtDNA lineage diversity in the native and naturalized ranges of the monk parakeet and allowed for identification of putative source populations.


There was no molecular character support for the M. m. calita, M. m. cotorra, and M. m. monachus subspecies, while the Bolivian M. m. luchsi was monophyletic and diagnosably distinct. Three haplotypes sampled in the native range were detected within invasive populations in Florida, Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island, the two most common of which were unique to M. m. monachus samples from eastern Argentina and bordering areas in Brazil and Uruguay.


The lack of discrete morphological character differences in tandem with the results presented here suggest that M. m. calita, M. m. cotorra and M. m. monachus are in need of formal taxonomic revision. The genetic distinctiveness of M. m. luchsi is consistent with previous recommendations of allospecies status for this taxon. The geographic origins of haplotypes sampled in the four U.S. populations are concordant with trapping records from the mid-20th century and suggest that propagule pressure exerted by the international pet bird trade contributed to the establishment of invasive populations in the United States.