Team flocks to collect dead birds for research

Team flocks to collect dead birds for research
Undergraduate David Tan (left), 24, and Dr Frank Rheindt, 36, at NUS' Avian Genetics Laboratory. They collect dead birds to better understand their evolution and ecology. They are holding (from left) the Schrenck's Bittern, which is rare; the blue-winged Pitta; and the pink-necked green pigeon.

Have you spotted a dead bird? Then undergraduate David Tan is your man.

The 24-year-old promises to "drop everything and rush down" to collect the carcass.

The self-proclaimed snatcher of dead birds explained in a widely shared Facebook post earlier this month why he is a bag man for science.

His work is part of a wide-ranging new effort here to understand bird evolution, conservation and disease, and how this relates to and impacts humans.

And no bird is too common for the cause.

"While mynahs and sparrows might seem common and worthless", future research projects may require DNA extracts from their carcasses, he said.

He is part of the Avian Genetics Laboratory at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Set up in January, it aims to build up a repository of winged creatures' genetic material to better understand their evolution and ecology.

The lab's freezer is full of local species such as the Japanese sparrowhawk and red-legged crake, and the researchers have so far amassed records of more than 50 species.

The lab's head, Assistant Professor Frank Rheindt, said the data could be used to identify species in danger of extinction due to poorer genetic diversity, which could help guide conservation efforts.

Dr Rheindt, who is with the university's Department of Biological Sciences, said a large part of the lab's analyses has become feasible only in recent years due to technological advances that allow genes to be sequenced faster and more cheaply.

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