The green peafowl (Pavo muticus) is known as the "King of Birds" and is of great significance to the cultural inheritance of East Asia and Southeast Asia. With historically wide but now scattered distributions, major drivers underlying its endangerment still remain unclear.
In a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, through comparative analyses on genomic, climatic and anthropogenic data, the relative role of historical climate change and human activities in the green peafowl’s population declination has been unraveled by a team of researchers from the Kunming Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University and Academia Sinica.
With the first de novo genome and comprehensive population genomes, the researchers found that the effective population size (Ne) of the green peafowl declined sharply from the Mid-Holocene (~6000 years ago) to 100 years ago, with a magnitude over 200 folds. Further comparison of historical and modern samples showed continuous genetic-diversity decline over the past 50 years.
The researchers revealed insignificant impact of Holocene climate change on the distribution of the green peafowl, while negative association between its Nes and the integrity of historical human activities. Based on these results, they concluded that human disturbance since prehistoric times might have been the main driving factor for the endangerment of this elegant pheasant.
Besides, the researchers found a high inbreeding level in the existing populations of the green peafowl, and call for a priority to enhance habitat protection and to construct ecological corridors to maintain its evolutionary potential in response to future environmental changes.
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