Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp. 11-15
Ben J. Novak, Tom Maloney, and Ryan Phelan
Abstract: Climate change and non-native wildlife diseases are exacerbating persistent challenges to biodiversity such as habitat destruction, invasive species and over-harvesting. With these increasing threats there is a pressing need to expand the conservationists’ toolbox. Read More
CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing (GE) offers a precise and potentially transformative tool to confront these challenges. Researchers, regulators, conservationists and the public are all needed to engage proactively in the thoughtful and responsible development and application of these new tools.
Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Experimental Investigation of the Dietary Ecology of the Extinct Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius.
March 5, 2018
Vol. 6, page 20
Abstract: For tens of thousands of years, passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) were a dominant member of eastern North American forest communities, with megaflocks comprising up to several billion individuals. The extinction of passenger pigeons in the early twentieth century undoubtedly influenced associated species and ecosystems as interactions stemming from the pigeons disappeared suddenly. Here, we strive to better understand what was probably one of the most significant of these interactions—that between passenger pigeons and seed bearing trees.Read More
Using the band-tailed pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata) and the rock dove (Columba livia) as physical and ecological proxies, we evaluated passenger pigeon dietary range and potential to disperse seeds. Our findings suggest that the passenger pigeon’s dietary range, observed historically to be taxonomically broad, was constrained to certain seed sizes due to bill gape size. In addition, we conclude that the digestive process invariably destroyed consumed seeds but the potential for a nutrition/dispersal mutualism might still have existed via regurgitation and post-mortem release of crop contents. Our results highlight the range of ecological interactions that can be lost with species’ extinction and the inherent challenge of understanding the consequences of those interactions.
Abstract: The extinct passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America, and possibly the world. Although theory predicts that large populations will be more genetically diverse, passenger pigeon genetic diversity was surprisingly low. To investigate this disconnect, we analyzed 41 mitochondrial and 4 nuclear genomes from passenger pigeons and 2 genomes from band-tailed pigeons, which are passenger pigeons’ closest living relatives.
Passenger pigeons’ large population size appears to have allowed for faster adaptive evolution and removal of harmful mutations, driving a huge loss in their neutral genetic diversity. These results demonstrate the effect that selection can have on a vertebrate genome and contradict results that suggested that population instability contributed to this species’s surprisingly rapid extinction.
Abstract: From 2015 to 2016 we determined the husbandry protocols involved in the captive rearing of the Band-tailed Pigeon (BTPI), Patagioenas fascinate albilinea, for use as a tool in the future management of like extant and extinct avian taxa. Current and historical ex-situ conservation management of BTPIs and the closely related Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, is limited in scope and required further examination. Focus on the BTPI within zoos and private aviculture facilities is currently lacking. New pressures on the wild populations and future examination of the parameters involved in the possible restoration of the Passenger Pigeon may rely on a complete understanding of these conservation management techniques. Here we report on the establishment of a colony of BTPIs, at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and detail the progress attained. A confiscated group of BTPIs was presented to WCS and allowed us to set up the colony, document the husbandry involved, and monitor neonatal development and the factors that influence that development. The information has provided a better understanding of the BTPI and has implications for the future conservation management of this and like species.
Abstract: In vitro production of germline chimeras and avian cloning may utilise the transfer of avian embryos from their original eggshell to a surrogate eggshell for culture during incubation. Such embryo transfer is valuable for avian cloning as the only alternative would be to transfer the cloned avian embryos into the infundibulum of recipient birds. Given the advances in paleogenomics, synthetic biology, and gene editing, a similar approach might be used to generate extinct species, i.e. de-extinction. One objective of the present research was to examine if ratite eggs could be manipulated via windowing and sham injection, similar to that which could allow for avian genome manipulation and subsequent development. The efficiency of interspecific avian embryo transfer using Chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) donor eggs and Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) recipient eggshells was also investigated. Egg windowing and embryo transfer techniques utilised in the present research were adapted from those found in the scientific literature. Presumed fertile eggs from Rhode Island Red (n = 40), Silkie (n = 2), and White Leghorn Chickens (n = 18), Turkey (n = 48), Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) (n = 79), and Ostrich (Struthio camelus) (n = 89) were used in this research. Of the 41 Chicken eggs used for transfers into recipient Turkey eggshells, only one (2.4%) produced a chick. Of 31 windowed Emu eggs, one embryo survived for 25 d but no chicks were produced. Of 36 windowed Ostrich eggs, one embryo survived and hatched. The efficiency of the windowing and embryo transfers to produce chicks was low and further refinements are needed. Importantly, the results herein establish that manipulating ratite embryos is possible.
Abstract: Evidence indicates that, despite some critical successes, current conservation approaches are not slowing the overall rate of biodiversity loss. The field of synthetic biology, which is capable of altering natural genomes with extremely precise editing, might offer the potential to resolve some intractable conservation problems (e.g., invasive species or pathogens). However, it is our opinion that there has been insufficient engagement by the conservation community with practitioners of synthetic biology. We contend that rapid, large-scale engagement of these two communities is urgently needed to avoid unintended and deleterious ecological consequences. To this point we describe case studies where synthetic biology is currently being applied to conservation, and we highlight the benefits to conservation biologists from engaging with this emerging technology.
Abstract: Pigeons and doves (Columbiformes) are one of the oldest and most diverse extant lineages of birds. However, the nature and timing of the group’s evolutionary radiation remains poorly resolved, despite recent advances in DNA sequencing and assembly and the growing database of pigeon mitochondrial genomes. One challenge has been to generate comparative data from the large number of extinct pigeon lineages, some of which are morphologically unique and therefore difficult to place in a phylogenetic context.
Results: We used ancient DNA and next generation sequencing approaches to assemble complete mitochondrial genomes for eleven pigeons, including the extinct Ryukyu wood pigeon (Columba jouyi), the thick-billed ground dove (Alopecoenas salamonis), the spotted green pigeon (Caloenas maculata), the Rodrigues solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria), and the dodo (Raphus cucullatus). We used a Bayesian approach to infer the evolutionary relationships among 24 species of living and extinct pigeons and doves.
Abstract: Interspecies somatic cell nuclear transfer (iSCNT) could benefit recovery programs of critically endangered species but must be weighed with the risks of failure. To weigh the risks and benefits, a decision-making process that evaluates progress is needed. Experiments that evaluate the efficiency and efficacy of blastocyst, fetal, and post-parturition development are necessary to determine the success or failure or species-specific iSCNT programs. Here, we use the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) as a case study for evaluating this emerging biomedical technology as a tool for genetic restoration. The black-footed ferret has depleted genetic variation yet genome resource banks contain genetic material of individuals not currently represented in the extant lineage. Thus, genetic restoration of the species is in theory possible and could help reduce the persistent erosion of genetic diversity from drift. Extensive genetic, genomic, and reproductive science tools have previously been developed in black-footed ferrets and would aid in the process of developing an iSCNT protocol for this species. Nonetheless, developing reproductive cloning will require years of experiments and a coordinated effort among recovery partners. The information gained from a well-planned research effort with the goal of genetic restoration via reproductive cloning could establish a 21st century model for evaluating and implementing conservation breeding that would be applicable to other genetically impoverished species.