Watchbird January 2022

studies identified some harmful alleles that still ex- ist in the population. The species has lost ∼ 70% to 80% of its genetic diversity since the 1800s and does have elevated levels of inbreeding. As a result, while the population has lost some -- but not all -- of the historical damaging mutations, the present island population still suffers from “ inbreeding depression ” from the remaining harm- ful alleles and loss of beneficial alleles, particularly in the form of poor sperm quality and low hatching success. Forty percent of kakapo eggs are infertile. Here is where the genetic work reported on in this paper will be so important for the future of the ka- kapo. Richard Henry and his offspring have pre- served some of the genetic diversity of the main- land population, including beneficial mutations. However, these birds also have preserved some of the harmful alleles that were eliminated from the

Stewart Island population. Genetic analysis can help prevent many of the damaging alleles from re - entering the population by judicious breeding. Analysis can also help in further examining the ge- netic basis of the inbreeding depression in the pre- sent kakapo population, particularly with relation to traits associated with fertility and hatching success. What is learned from the study of the causative al- leles that reduce breeding success in this species may also have implications for the causes of in- breeding depression in other species. Certainly the techniques developed will inform future investiga- tions into the causes of inbreeding depression, even if not the actual deleterious alleles. Adapted from the original scientific article: Nicolas Dussex, (2021) Population genomics of the criti- cally endangered kakapo, Cell Genomics, Volume 1, Issue 1, and other sources.

Editor ’ s Note: Sirocco is a celebrity kakapo and ambassador for his species and conservation. Hatched on March 23, 1997, on Codfish Island, located off Stewart Island, Sirocco was raised by rangers with the Department of Conservation after suffering a respiratory illness at three weeks of age. Due to his removal from his mother and other kakapos at such a young age, Sirocco is imprinted to hu- mans. In 2009, while being filmed for a tv series on endangered species around the world, Sirocco ’ s antics on the head of the zoologist rocketed him to fame. In January 2010, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key appointed Sirocco the Official Spokesbird for Conservation. Photo by Mike Bodie from Wikipedia

Robin Sullivan is shown here with a juvenile kakapo while visiting in New Zealand in 2011. She was not part of the study summarized here and this picture is included for the sole purpose of providing a frame of reference for the size of the kakapo.

If you would like to see Robin ’ s original story pub- lished in a 2011 edition of Watchbird, use the link or the QR code here to access the Watchbird is- sue in the archives: watchbird/issue/view/201

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