Genomic impact of severe population decline in a nomadic songbird

Ross Crates, George Olah, Marcin Adamski, Nicola Aitken, Sam Banks, Dean Ingwersen, Louis Ranjard, Laura Rayner, Dejan Stojanovic, Tomasz Suchan, Brenton Von Takach Dukai, Robert Heinsohn

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Uncovering the population genetic histories of non-model organisms is increasingly possible through advances in next generation sequencing and DNA sampling of museum specimens. This new information can inform conservation of threatened species, particularly those for which historical and contemporary population data are unavailable or challenging to obtain. The critically endangered, nomadic regent honeyeater Anthochaera phrygia was abundant and widespread throughout south-eastern Australia prior to a rapid population decline and range contraction since the 1970s. A current estimated population of 250-400 individuals is distributed sparsely across 600,000 km2 from northern Victoria to southern Queensland. Using hybridization RAD (hyRAD) techniques, we obtained a SNP dataset from 64 museum specimens (date 1879-1960), 102 'recent' (1989-2012) and 52 'current' (2015-2016) wild birds sampled throughout the historical and contemporary range. We aimed to estimate population genetic structure, genetic diversity and population size of the regent honeyeater prior to its rapid decline. We then assessed the impact of the decline on recent and current population size, structure and genetic diversity. Museum sampling showed population structure in regent honeyeaters was historically low, which remains the case despite a severe fragmentation of the breeding range. Population decline has led to minimal loss of genetic diversity since the 1980's. Capacity to quantify the overall magnitude of both genetic diversity loss and population decline was limited by the poorer quality of genomic data derived from museum specimens. A rapid population decline, coupled with the regent honeyeater's high mobility, means a detectable genomic impact of this decline has not yet manifested. Extinction may occur in this nomadic species before a detectable genomic impact of small population size is realised. We discuss the implications for genetic management of endangered mobile species and enhancing the value of museum specimens in population genomic studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0223953
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalPLoS One
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2019


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