Whole-genome analysis reveals the diversification of Galapagos rail (Aves: Rallidae) and confirms the success of goat eradication programs

Galapagos rail (Laterallus spilonota Gould) Photo: © carmelo_lopez / iNaturalist

Similar to other insular birds around the world, the Galapagos rail (Laterallus spilonota Gould, 1841) exhibits reduced flight capacity following its colonization of the archipelago ~1.2 mya. Despite their short evolutionary history, rails have colonized seven different islands spanning the entire width of the archipelago. Galapagos rails were once common on islands with sufficiently high altitudes to support shrubs in humid habitats. After humans introduced goats, this habitat was severely reduced due to overgrazing. Habitat loss devastated some rail populations, with less than 50 individuals surviving, rendering the genetic diversity of Galapagos rail a pressing conservation concern. Additionally, one enigma is the reappearance of rails on the island of Pinta after they were considered extirpated. Our approach was to investigate the evolutionary history and geographic distribution of Galapagos rails as well as examine the genome-wide effects of historical population bottlenecks using 39 whole genomes across different island populations. We recovered an early divergence of rail ancestors leading to the isolated populations on Pinta and a second clade comprising the rest of the islands, historically forming a single landmass. Subsequently, the separation of the landmass ~900 kya may have led to the isolation of the Isabela population with more panmictic populations found on Santa Cruz and Santiago islands. We found that rails genomes contain long runs of homozygosity (>2Mb) that could be related to the introduction of goats. Finally, our findings show that the modern eradication of goats was critical to avoiding episodes of inbreeding in most populations.

Read the article in the link: https://doi.org/10.1093/jhered/esae017

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In 2022, the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) and the broader UNC & USFQ Galapagos Initiative will celebrate its 10th Anniversary. We are proud to announce the World Summit on Island Sustainability scheduled to be held on June 26–30, 2022 at the Galapagos Science Center and the Community Convention Center on San Cristobal Island.

The content of the World Summit will be distributed globally through social media and results documented through papers published in a book written as part of the Galapagos Book Series by Springer Nature and edited by Steve Walsh (UNC) & Carlos Mena (USFQ) as well as Jill Stewart (UNC) and Juan Pablo Muñoz (GSC/USC). The book will be inclusive and accessible by the broader island community including scientists, managers, residents, tourists, and government and non-government organizations.

While the most obvious goal of organizing the World Summit on Island Sustainability is to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the GSC and the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, other goals will be addressed through special opportunities created as part of our operational planning of the World Summit.

For instance, we seek to elevate and highlight the Galapagos in the island conservation discourse, seeking to interact with other island networks in more obvious and conspicuous ways to benefit the Galapagos Islands, the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, and the world. We will seize the opportunity to further develop the I2N2 – International Islands Network-of-Networks. Further, we wish to highlight and emphasize multiple visions of a sustainable future for the Galapagos Islands and we cannot do this alone. Therefore, engaging the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Tourism, the Government Council of Galapagos, the Galapagos National Park, and local Galapagos authorities, including government and non-government organizations and local citizen groups, is imperative.

The Galapagos Science Center on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Borrowing from Hawaii’s and Guam’s Green Growth Program and the Global Island Partnership, we wish to examine existing global programs that emphasize island sustainability and their incorporation into life, policies, and circumstances in the Galapagos Islands. We will also seek to enhance our connections with the institutional members of our International Galapagos Science Consortium and expand the Consortium through the recruitment of other member institutions. We will also work to benefit islands and their local communities by working with citizen groups as well as important NGOs who seek to improve the natural conditions in the Galapagos and diminish the impact of the human dimension on the future of Galapagos’ ecosystems.

Lastly, we will use the World Summit to benefit UNC & USFQ and our constituencies through a strong and vibrant communication plan about the World Summit, creating corporate relationships as sponsors, identifying funding goals through donors, and benefiting our study abroad program for student engagement in the Galapagos Islands. We plan to develop and issue a Galapagos Sustainability Communique after the World Summit that includes the vision and insights of all its participants for a sustainable Galapagos with applicability to global island settings.

We are eager to hear your perspective and have you join us at the World Summit on Island Sustainability!