Saving Darwin's muse: evolutionary genetics for the recovery of the Floreana mockingbird

PEA Hoeck, MA Beaumont, KE James, RB Grant, PR Grant, LF Keller

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

15 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The distribution of mockingbird species among the Galapagos Islands prompted Charles Darwin to question, for the first time in writing, the 'stability of species'. Some 50 years after Darwin's visit, however, the endemic Floreana mockingbird (Mimus trifasciatus) had become extinct on Floreana Island and, today, only two small populations survive on two satellite islets. As Darwin noted, rarity often precedes extinction. To avert extinction, plans are being developed to reintroduce M. trifasciatus to Floreana. Here, we integrate evolutionary thinking and conservation practice using coalescent analyses and genetic data from contemporary and museum samples, including two collected by Darwin and Robert Fitzroy on Floreana in 1835. Our microsatellite results show substantial differentiation between the two extant populations, but our coalescence-based modelling does not indicate long, independent evolutionary histories. One of the populations is highly inbred, but both harbour unique alleles present on Floreana in 1835, suggesting that birds from both islets should be used to establish a single, mixed population on Floreana. Thus, Darwin's mockingbird specimens not only revealed to him a level of variation that suggested speciation following geographical isolation but also, more than 170 years later, return important information to their place of origin for the conservation of their conspecifics.
Translated title of the contributionSaving Darwin's muse: evolutionary genetics for the recovery of the Floreana mockingbird
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212 - 215
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Volume6(2)
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010

Bibliographical note

Publisher: Royal Society of London

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