Reduction of genetic diversity in ‘Alalā (Hawaiian crow; Corvus hawaiiensis) between the late 1800s and the late 1900s

Geneviève Blanchet*, M Renee Bellinger, Anna M Kearns, Nandadevi Cortes-Rodriguez, Bryce Masuda, Michael G Campana, Christian Rutz, Robert C Fleischer, Jolene T Sutton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Genetic and genomic data are increasingly used to aid conservation management of endangered species by providing insights into evolutionary histories, factors associated with extinction risks, and potential for future adaptation. For the ‘Alalā, or Hawaiian crow (Corvus hawaiiensis), genetic concerns include negative correlations between inbreeding and hatching success. However, it is unclear if low genetic diversity and inbreeding depression are consequences of a historical population bottleneck, or if ‘Alalā had historically low genetic diversity that predated human influence, perhaps as a result of earlier declines or founding events. In this study, we applied a hybridization-based sequence capture to generate a genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) dataset for comparing historical specimens collected in the 1890s, when ‘Alalā were more numerous, to samples taken between 1973 and 1998, when ‘Alalā population densities were near the lowest documented levels in the wild, prior to all individuals being collected for captive rearing. We found low genome-wide diversity in both sample groups, however, the modern sample group (1973 to 1998 cohort) exhibited relatively fewer polymorphic alleles, a lower proportion of polymorphic loci, and lower observed heterozygosity, consistent with a population decline and potential bottleneck effects. These results combined with a current low population size highlight the importance of continued efforts by conservation managers to mitigate inbreeding and maintain founder representation to preserve what genetic diversity remains.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberesad063
Pages (from-to)32–44
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Heredity
Early online date2 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • Evolutionary history
  • Founder size
  • Genomic diversity
  • Museomics
  • Museum DNA
  • Population bottleneck


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