Presumably extinct ancestors of pigeons found on the islands in Scotland

(ORDO NEWS) — Ornithologists have found that the Scottish Outer Hebrides are inhabited by populations of wild pigeons, direct descendants or relatives of the supposedly extinct ancestors of city pigeons.

The work was published in the journal iScience. The Oxford University press service announced the results on Friday.

According to geneticists, urban and wild pigeons that live in Eurasia and in different regions of the New World are descendants of domesticated rock pigeons.

Birds originally lived in Iberia and the Mediterranean. Subsequently, the wild ancestors of birds interbred with feral poultry. For this reason, the species has almost disappeared.

Scientists conducted a genetic “census” of pigeons living on isolated islands off the coast of Scotland and Ireland and found that populations of “pure” wild pigeons have survived in some regions of Europe. Their ancestors never came into contact with feral or domesticated relatives.

Descendants of pigeon ancestors

In total, the team captured and collected DNA samples from 106 birds. They lived in the Scottish, Outer Hebrides and Orkney Islands, as well as the Inner Hebrides, Arran and the Isles of Man and Cape Clear.

In addition to genome sampling, biologists have studied pigeons’ body anatomy, coloration, and other morphological characteristics in a comprehensive manner.

The genetic census confirmed that the vast majority of the studied pigeons are among the hybrid varieties of birds that arose as a result of crossing wild rock pigeons and their feral relatives.

However, scientists have discovered a population of birds in the Outer Hebrides whose genomes did not contain even minimal inclusions of DNA from domestic pigeons.

This suggests that they are either direct descendants of wild rock pigeons or their closest relatives who managed to survive to our time in complete isolation from other populations of these birds.

“In the past, we believed that all existing populations of rock pigeons in Scotland and Ireland were hybrids of domestic and wild pigeons.

Therefore, we were very surprised that in the genomes of birds from the Outer Hebrides there is not even the slightest trace of their hybridization with domestic or feral pigeons. “, – said a researcher at the University of Oxford (UK) Will Smith, whose words are quoted by the press service of the university.

The authors of the work note that in the coming years, this isolation may be broken. This may lead to the extinction of the relict population of pigeons. For this reason, scientists propose now to develop conservation measures that will protect wild birds from possible hybridization with feral domestic pigeons.

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