ANALYZING MITOCHONDRIAL GENETIC DIVERSITY AND DNA DAMAGE IN ANCIENT PASSENGER PIGEON SPECIMENS FROM MUSEUMS

Open Access
Author:
Shaw, Robert E.
Area of Honors:
Biology
Degree:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Beth Shapiro, Thesis Supervisor
  • Stephen Wade Schaeffer, Honors Advisor
Keywords:
  • genetic diversity
  • passenger pigeon
  • ancient DNA
Abstract:
Until its extinction in the early 1900s, the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) was the most abundant species of bird in North America. DNA sequences isolated from museum specimens may help to distinguish between the many hypotheses of its extinction. To this end, ten ancient passenger pigeon samples were obtained from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada to see whether this collection’s specimens contained viable DNA, to assess the level of DNA damage in the specimens, and to perform a preliminary assessment of genetic diversity in the passenger pigeon. DNA was successfully extracted, amplified, and sequenced from nine of the ten samples. DNA damage was found in seven of these samples. Phylogenetic and parsimony network analyses showed seven distinct haplotypes among the individuals, suggesting a high level of genetic diversity in the passenger pigeon up until its time of extinction. These results provide a strong basis for proceeding with a larger study to assess the overall population dynamics of the passenger pigeon and to examine the potential causes of the extinction.