Museum DNA reveals the demographic history of the endangered Seychelles warbler

Lewis Spurgin, David Wright, Marco Van der Velde, Nigel Collar, Jan Komdeur, Terry Burke, David Richardson

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The importance of evolutionary conservation – how understanding evolutionary forces can help guide conservation decisions – is widely recognized. However, the historical demography of many endangered species is unknown, despite the fact that this can have important implications for contemporary ecological processes and for extinction risk. Here, we reconstruct the population history of the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis) – an ecological model species. By the 1960s, this species was on the brink of extinction, but its previous history is unknown. We used DNA samples from contemporary and museum specimens spanning 140 years to reconstruct bottleneck history. We found a 25% reduction in genetic diversity between museum and contemporary populations, and strong genetic structure. Simulations indicate that the Seychelles warbler was bottlenecked from a large population, with an ancestral Ne of several thousands falling to <50 within the last century. Such a rapid decline, due to anthropogenic factors, has important implications for extinction risk in the Seychelles warbler, and our results will inform conservation practices. Reconstructing the population history of this species also allows us to better understand patterns of genetic diversity, inbreeding and promiscuity in the contemporary populations. Our approaches can be applied across species to test ecological hypotheses and inform conservation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1134–1143
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number9
Early online date1 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2014


  • Acrocephalus sechellensis
  • approximate baysian computation
  • Birds
  • Bottleneck
  • island
  • microsatellites

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