Genomic diversity in the "critically-endangered" 'alalā, (Hawaiian Crow; Corvus hawaiiensis)
Geneviève Blanchet1, M. Renee Bellinger1, Anna Kearns2, Nandadevi Cortes-Rodriguez2,3, Michael Campana2, Christian Rutz4, Robert Fleischer2, Jolene Sutton1
1University of Hawai'i at Hilo, Hilo, HI. 2Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), Washington, DC. 3Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY. 4University of St Andrews, St Andrews, United Kingdom


II. Building the Future


Genetic diversity is often reduced in bottlenecked populations, which can lead to problems like inbreeding depression and reduced adaptive potential. One example of a bottlenecked species experiencing negative genetic consequences is the ‘alalā (Hawaiian crow; Corvus hawaiiensis). The ‘alalā suffered a century-long bottleneck, and became extinct in the wild in 2002. After decades of captive breeding, 11 individuals were successfully released back into the wild in October 2017, representing the first step in a long-term reintroduction effort. To aid this species recovery program, we have begun assessing genome-wide diversity in the ‘alalā. In this study, we used a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) capture approach to test for loss of allelic diversity and heterozygosity between two sets of samples: museum and modern. Museum specimens were collected in the early bottleneck period (circa 1890), and modern individuals were sampled during years in which the population reached its smallest size (circa 1990). Preliminary data analysis suggests no loss in overall genetic diversity – measured as the number of SNPs per bird – between groups, but genetic structuring is present between museum and modern samples. If these preliminary findings are confirmed by our on-going, in-depth analyses, this would suggest that the ‘alalā population was relatively small with low genetic diversity prior to the bottleneck event, like some other island populations.