Conservation genomics of the endangered Seychelles Magpie‐Robin (Copsychus sechellarum): a unique insight into the history of a precious endemic bird

Emily L. Cavill*, Shyam Gopalakrishnan, Lara C. Puetz, Ângela M. Ribeiro, Sarah S. T. Mak, Rute R. Da Fonseca, George Pacheco, Bronwyn Dunlop, Wilna Accouche, Nirmal Shah, Anna Zora, Licia Calabrese, Martin J Genner, Gareth Jones, Chunxue Guo, Guojie Zhang, M. Thomas P. Gilbert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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The Seychelles Magpie-Robin Copsychus sechellarum is an IUCN Red-List Endangered species endemic to the Seychelles, whose population was reduced to eight individuals on a single island in the 1960s. Translocations from the remaining population to four additional islands have been an integral factor in their recovery, but the potential genetic consequences of their translocation history have not previously been explored. We resequenced the genomes of 141 individuals sampled across the five current island populations and analysed the data to characterize their population structure, as well as to explore suspected inbreeding. Overall, very low levels of heterozygosity were observed, all coupled with long homozygous segments that suggest recent inbreeding, probably the consequence of a population bottleneck in the 1960s. Three of the four translocated populations displayed less genetic diversity than the founder population from which they were taken, a familiar pattern observed as a result of the evolutionary force of genetic drift following founder events. Furthermore, and perhaps surprising given the recent time since the new populations were established, population structure was observed within these same three populations. New awareness of inbreeding in the Seychelles Magpie-Robin populations, and continued genetic monitoring, will allow for genetically informed management decisions. This is particularly prudent in maximizing the success of the future conservation translocation planned for this species.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
Early online date16 Oct 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A huge thank you is given to members of S.M.A.R.T. and all local island conservation staff, past and present, on Aride, Cousin, Cousine, Denis and Frégate Islands, for collection and care of blood samples (and the birds). These thanks are further extended to Nature Seychelles, specifically Eric Blais, and to Ashley Dias and the Seychelles Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate for facilitating all necessary permits and for the careful transport of blood samples from Seychelles. We thank Kate Lessells and Christa Mateman at NIOO for long‐term care and generous handover of Aride blood samples that were integral to this research. We also thank Fatima Sanchez, Andy Foote and Mark de Manuel for advice on various programme parameters, Stephen Garrett for invaluable grammar corrections of the manuscript, Mikkel Skovrind for excellent map creation skills and Chris Tagg for the endearing photo of Magpie‐Robin feeding time. Overwhelming thanks gor to Cheryl Sanchez for enthusiasm for this research before it even began, and for local support in getting this project off the ground. We also thank the Experiment fundraising platform and all those who donated at the early stages of this project. This research was principally supported through ERC Consolidator grant 681396 Extinction Genomics and Danish National Research Foundation Centre for Evolutionary Hologenomics DNRF143 grants to M.T.P.G. R.F. thanks the Danish National Research Foundation for its support of the Centre for Macroecology, Evolution, and Climate (DNRF96).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. Ibis published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ornithologists' Union


  • avian conservation
  • passerine
  • conservation genetics
  • endangered species
  • inbreeding
  • whole-genome resequencing


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