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In Proceedings. Biological sciences

Species are being lost at an unprecedented rate during the Anthropocene. Progress has been made in clarifying how species traits influence their propensity to go extinct, but the role historical demography plays in species loss or persistence is unclear. In eastern North America, five charismatic landbirds went extinct last century, and the causes of their extinctions have been heavily debated. Although these extinctions are most often attributed to post-colonial human activity, other factors such as declining ancestral populations prior to European colonization could have made these species particularly susceptible. We used population genomic data from these extinct birds and compared them with those from four codistributed extant species. We found extinct species harboured lower genetic diversity and effective population sizes than extant species, but both extinct and non-extinct birds had similar demographic histories of population expansion. These demographic patterns are consistent with population size changes associated with glacial-interglacial cycles. The lack of support for overall population declines during the Pleistocene corroborates the view that, although species that went extinct may have been vulnerable due to low diversity or small population size, their disappearance was driven by human activities in the Anthropocene.

Smith Brian Tilston, Gehara Marcelo, Harvey Michael G


Anthropocene, birds, extinction, historical DNA, machine learning