Pink dove from Mauritius. Credit: Mauritius Wildlife Foundation

The authors of a large study on the once critically endangered pink pigeon say that increasing the number of the species is not enough to save it from extinction in the future.

Despite the growing population, the team’s analysis shows that the pink pigeon has a high genetic load from bad mutations, which puts it at significant risk of extinction in the wild for 100 years without ongoing conservation action.

International collaboration led by researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA), the Durl Institute for Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent and the Earlm Institute in the UK, working with field organizations in Mauritius, is studying the genetic impact of “Of the population – a rapid decline in numbers, which affected the pink pigeon from Mauritius in the late 80’s, with only 12 birds surviving in the wild.

The team analyzed the DNA of 175 birds taken over nearly 20 years after further conservation efforts were made.

With the help of biologists from the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation and the Durre Wildlife Trust and in partnership with the National Parks and the Mauritius Government Conservation Service, the wildlife population has grown to about 500 birds.

Therefore, the pink pigeon has been downgraded twice in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List from critically endangered to vulnerable.

However, to keep these populations viable, researchers warn that “genetic rescue” is needed to restore lost genetic variation caused by inbreeding and reduce the effects of harmful mutations. This can be achieved by releasing captive birds from zoos in the United Kingdom and the EU.

Not everything is pink for the pink pigeon, the study found

Pink dove from Mauritius. Credit: Mauritius Wildlife Foundation

The study, published in Conservation biology, uses genetic conservation work at DICE, cutting-edge genomic techniques developed at the UEA and Earlham Institute, and computer modeling to closely examine the species’ DNA and assess the risk of future extinction, as well as predict what needs to be done to to ensure the viability of the pink pigeon. The authors say their findings could help other endangered species.

“By studying the genome of a restored species that was once critically endangered, we can learn how to help other species recover from population collapse,” said Professor Kok van Osterhout of the UEA, one of the lead authors.

“During the bottleneck in the pigeon population, the gene pool lost a lot of variation and the frequency of very bad mutations increased. This genetic burden is still a serious threat, although the population has recovered.

Prof. van Oosterhout, of the UEA School of Environmental Sciences, added: “The problem is that all individuals are somehow connected to each other. They are descendants of several ancestors who managed to survive the hardship. Therefore, it becomes virtually impossible to stop the inbreeding and this reveals these bad mutations. In turn, this could increase mortality and lead to population collapse again. “

Professor Jim Grumbridge of the University of Kent explained how the initial recovery of the pink pigeon population was achieved: parks and conservation, was established in the 70s of last century.

“It was used to raise birds for release into the wild, which increased the population. The team also restored the habitat by controlling the introduced species and providing additional food as part of a field program for intensive conservation management, which further increased the wild population. “

The study uses sophisticated software called SLiM, which can model an entire bird chromosome, including all its bad mutations. The researchers simulated hardship and population recovery and then compared the projected results of different reintroduction programs. Therefore, the study is able to predict the viability of the population in the future under different conservation management scenarios.

Not everything is pink for the pink pigeon, the study found

Pink dove from Mauritius. Credit: Mauritius Wildlife Foundation

“We didn’t know how many bad mutations the population had initially, before the bottleneck,” said Dr. Hernan Morales of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, who did the SLiM modeling. “First we had to simulate the ancestral population to see how many bad mutations could develop. Then we checked that data with inbreeding depression data from pink pigeon populations at the zoo.”

Using pedigree and fitness data stored at the Jersey Zoo for more than 1,000 birds, the team calculated the genetic load, which showed that the pink pigeon carries a high genetic load of 15 deadly equivalents. This was then used to calibrate the computer models.

“Computer simulations clearly show that increasing numbers alone is not enough,” added Dr. Morales. “The population also needs ‘genetic rescue’ from more genetically diverse birds kept in European zoos. These birds are not so closely related and can help reduce the level of inbreeding. However, there is a risk that we will introduce other bad mutations from the zoo population into the wild. “

Dr Camilla Ryan, who is working on the project at the Earlham Institute and UEA, said: “Our bioinformatics analysis has shown the importance of genetic diversity and the unique genetic rescue model to help other species on the verge of extinction. This study highlights the value of cooperation between NGOs, institutes and universities, which bring together a range of expertise. This ensures that a holistic approach to the conservation of the species is applied, which includes an understanding of its genetic health. “

Sam Spike, Ph.D. We can now do this with the help of bioinformatics tools developed to study human genetics and the genomes of other model bird species, such as the chicken.

“By using conservation genomics, future reintroduction programs can avoid releasing individuals with a high genetic burden. This would help reduce inbreeding and improve the long-term recovery of endangered species such as the pink pigeon.”

“Genomic erosion in demographically restored bird species during conservation rescue” is published in Conservation biology on May 13.

Intelligent use of genomic data needed for species conservation

More information:
Genomic erosion in demographically recovered bird species during conservation rescue, Conservation biology (2022). DOI: 10.1111 / cobi.13918

Provided by the University of East Anglia

Quote: Not everything is rosy for the pink pigeon, according to a study (2022, May 12), extracted on May 12, 2022 from

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