New insights into the phylogenetics and population structure of the prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus)
Management requires a robust understanding of between- and within-species genetic variability, however such data are still lacking in many species. For example, although multiple population genetics studies of the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) have been conducted, no similar studies have been done of the closely-related prairie falcon (F. mexicanus) and it is unclear how much genetic variation and population structure exists across the species’ range. Furthermore, the phylogenetic relationship of F. mexicanus relative to other falcon species is contested. We utilized a genomics approach (i.e., genome sequencing and assembly followed by single nucleotide polymorphism genotyping) to rapidly address these gaps in knowledge.
We sequenced the genome of a single female prairie falcon and generated a 1.17 Gb (gigabases) draft genome assembly. We generated maximum likelihood phylogenetic trees using complete mitochondrial genomes as well as nuclear protein-coding genes. This process provided evidence that F. mexicanus is an outgroup to the clade that includes the peregrine falcon and members of the subgenus Hierofalco. We annotated > 16,000 genes and almost 600,000 high-quality single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the nuclear genome, providing the raw material for a SNP assay design featuring > 140 gene-associated markers and a molecular-sexing marker. We subsequently genotyped ~ 100 individuals from California (including the San Francisco East Bay Area, Pinnacles National Park and the Mojave Desert) and Idaho (Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area). We tested for population structure and found evidence that individuals sampled in California and Idaho represent a single panmictic population.
Our study illustrates how genomic resources can rapidly shed light on genetic variability in understudied species and resolve phylogenetic relationships. Furthermore, we found evidence of a single, randomly mating population of prairie falcons across our sampling locations. Prairie falcons are highly mobile and relatively rare long-distance dispersal events may promote gene flow throughout the range. As such, California’s prairie falcons might be managed as a single population, indicating that management actions undertaken to benefit the species at the local level have the potential to influence the species as a whole.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||New insights into the phylogenetics and population structure of the prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus)|
|Series title||BMC Genomics|
|Contributing office(s)||Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center|
|Description||Article 233; 14 p.|