Some interesting news about the Passenger Pigeon.

A study released last month in Science sheds new light on the possible reasons for the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. A team of researchers has suggested that “Natural selection shaped the rise and fall of passenger pigeon genomic diversity. Of course, it is now well known that the now-extinct Passenger Pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America, or perhaps even on Earth, and that it was ultimately hunted to extinction. But wholesale market hunting is only one causal explanation. Gemma Murray and her colleagues examined the genomes of Passenger Pigeon samples from different locales throughout the species’ range. They concluded that a reduction in genetic diversity provided few avenues for the bird to respond to serious human pressures. It may be that it was population instability that seriously contributed to this species’ surprisingly rapid extinction. Natural selection may have played a role in the pigeons’ extinction, with the birds well-adapted to living in large populations, but not in situations where their numbers were much smaller. (From the Birding Community E-bulletin).

For a quick review of some of the pros and cons of this theory, you can go to an NPR story from All Things Considered:

But the Passenger Pigeon story my not be over.  An organization called Revive and Restore is undertaking the task of restoring the Passenger Pigeon. Phase one of their three phases is completed, and includes:

Phase 1 – Since 2012, through through their collaborative partnership with the UCSC Paleogenomics Lab, they have:

Sequenced DNA from 37 Passenger Pigeons, including 2 whole genomes;

Sequenced, assembled, and publicly released a high quality reference genome for the Band-tailed Pigeon;

Made valuable scientific discoveries of the species’ evolution and population genomics.

Not only have they discovered that the Passenger Pigeon was a well adapted, resilient, and ancient bird, they have identified some of the first genes that may help revive the species.

In 2017, they welcomed aboard a new project partner to sequence and research more genomes for Passenger Pigeon de-extinction, the Center for Genome Architecture at Rice University’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Using the Band-tailed Pigeon as the host species the organization hopes to produce a living Passenger Pigeon by 2025.

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