Conservation biology

‘Ghost’ alleles of the Mauritius kestrel

Abstract

The population of Mauritius kestrels is thought to have recovered from a single wild breeding pair in 19741, when its prospects were considered to be hopeless, to over 200 pairs today2. Here we evaluate the loss of genetic variation that resulted from this bottleneck by typing 12 microsatellite DNA loci in museum skins up to 170 years old and from modern kestrels. We find that ancestral variation was remarkably high and comparable to continental kestrel species. This shows that the unexpected resilience of the population could not have been due either to benefits contributed by an undetected remnant population or to reduction of the inbreeding genetic load by a history of small population size3.

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Figure 1: The genetic diversity of the ancestral population of Mauritius kestrels is similar to those of continental populations.

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