Genomic signatures of near-extinction and rebirth of the crested ibis and other endangered bird species


BACKGROUND: Nearly one-quarter of all avian species is either threatened or nearly threatened. Of these, 73 species are currently being rescued from going extinct in wildlife sanctuaries. One of the previously most critically-endangered is the crested ibis, Nipponia nippon. Once widespread across North-East Asia, by 1981 only seven individuals from two breeding pairs remained in the wild. The recovering crested ibis populations thus provide an excellent example for conservation genomics since every individual bird has been recruited for genomic and demographic studies. RESULTS: Using high-quality genome sequences of multiple crested ibis individuals, its thriving co-habitant, the little egret, Egretta garzetta, and the recently sequenced genomes of 41 other avian species that are under various degrees of survival threats, including the bald eagle, we carry out comparative analyses for genomic signatures of near extinction events in association with environmental and behavioral attributes of species. We confirm that both loss of genetic diversity and enrichment of deleterious mutations of protein-coding genes contribute to the major genetic defects of the endangered species. We further identify that genetic inbreeding and loss-of-function genes in the crested ibis may all constitute genetic susceptibility to other factors including long-term climate change, over-hunting, and agrochemical overuse. We also establish a genome-wide DNA identification platform for molecular breeding and conservation practices, to facilitate sustainable recovery of endangered species. CONCLUSIONS: These findings demonstrate common genomic signatures of population decline across avian species and pave a way for further effort in saving endangered species and enhancing conservation genomic efforts.





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Publication Info

Li, Shengbin, Bo Li, Cheng Cheng, Zijun Xiong, Qingbo Liu, Jianghua Lai, Hannah V Carey, Qiong Zhang, et al. (2014). Genomic signatures of near-extinction and rebirth of the crested ibis and other endangered bird species. GENOME BIOLOGY, 15(12). p. 557. 10.1186/s13059-014-0557-1 Retrieved from

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Erich David Jarvis

Adjunct Professor in the Deptartment of Neurobiology

Dr. Jarvis' laboratory studies the neurobiology of vocal communication. Emphasis is placed on the molecular pathways involved in the perception and production of learned vocalizations. They use an integrative approach that combines behavioral, anatomical, electrophysiological and molecular biological techniques. The main animal model used is songbirds, one of the few vertebrate groups that evolved the ability to learn vocalizations. The generality of the discoveries is tested in other vocal learning orders, such as parrots and hummingbirds, as well as non-vocal learners, such as pigeons and non-human primates. Some of the questions require performing behavior/molecular biology experiments in freely ranging animals, such as hummingbirds in tropical forest of Brazil. Recent results show that in songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds, perception and production of song are accompanied by anatomically distinct patterns of gene expression. All three groups were found to exhibit vocally-activated gene expression in exactly 7 forebrain nuclei that are very similar to each other. These structures for vocal learning and production are thought to have evolved independently within the past 70 million years, since they are absent from interrelated non-vocal learning orders. One structure, Area X of the basal ganglia's striatum in songbirds, shows large differential gene activation depending on the social context in which the bird sings. These differences may reflect a semantic content of song, perhaps similar to human language.

The overall goal of the research is to advance knowledge of the neural mechanisms for vocal learning and basic mechanisms of brain function. These goals are further achieved by combined collaborative efforts with the laboratories of Drs. Mooney and Nowicki at Duke University, who study respectively behavior and electrophysiological aspects of songbird vocal communication.

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