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Genomic insights into isolation of the threatened Florida crested caracara (Caracara plancus)

October 14, 2023

We conducted a population genomic study of the crested caracara (Caracara plancus) using samples (n = 290) collected from individuals in Florida, Texas, and Arizona, United States. Crested caracaras are non-migratory raptors ranging from the southern tip of South America to the southern United States, including a federally protected relict population in Florida long thought to have been isolated since the last ice age. Our objectives were to evaluate genetic diversity and population structure of Florida’s apparently isolated population and to evaluate taxonomic relationships of crested caracaras at the northern edge of their range. Using DNA purified from blood samples, we conducted double-digest restriction site associated DNA sequencing and sequenced the mitochondrial ND2 gene. Analyses of population structure using over 9,000 SNPs suggest that two major clusters are best supported, one cluster including only Florida individuals and the other cluster including Arizona and Texas individuals. Both SNPs and mitochondrial haplotypes reveal the Florida population to be highly differentiated genetically from Arizona and Texas populations, whereas, Arizona and Texas populations are moderately differentiated from each other. The Florida population’s mitochondrial haplotypes form a separate monophyletic group, while Arizona and Texas populations share mitochondrial haplotypes. Results of this study provide substantial genetic evidence that Florida’s crested caracaras have experienced long-term isolation from caracaras in Arizona and Texas and thus, represent a distinct evolutionary lineage possibly warranting distinction as an Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU) or subspecies. This study will inform conservation strategies focused on long-term survival of Florida’s distinct, panmictic population.

Publication Year 2024
Title Genomic insights into isolation of the threatened Florida crested caracara (Caracara plancus)
DOI 10.1093/jhered/esad057
Authors Natalie Payne, John A. Erwin, Joan L. Morrison, James F. Dwyer, Melanie Culver
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Heredity
Index ID 70254770
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle