Ancestor of the domestic pigeon found in Scotland and Ireland

L'ancêtre du pigeon commun a fini par se métisser avec son espèce contemporaine, donnant lieu à une hybridation de l'animal qui supplante les animaux précurseurs, les conduisant presque à l'extinction.

After being declared extinct in England and Wales, researchers have discovered an ancestral species of the modern house pigeon in isolated colonies in Scotland and Ireland.

Common Pigeon – Pigeon Livia Or, less popularly, ‘rock pigeons’ – living in a hybrid situation: they’re not exactly wild in any practical sense, but they’re not exactly domesticated, usually creating their own colonies in remote environments but close to urbanisation. .

The ancestor of the common pigeon intermingled with its contemporary species, resulting in hybridization of the animal that replaced the predecessor animals, almost driving them to extinction (Image: OlegRi/)

The ancestor of the common pigeon suffered widespread decline in society. Usually, these animals hide in inaccessible places like sea caves or mountainous areas. Because of this, they are becoming increasingly rare and, therefore, approaching extinction.

According to Oxford University doctoral student Will Smith, author of a new study on wild animals, part of the problem comes from “species interbreeding,” meaning that feral pigeons mate with common pigeons, creating so-called “feral pigeons” — hybrid versions of the two animals that, while not 100% wild, act like them. These are so numerous that they gradually replace rare animals, which, visually speaking, are almost identical.

As a result, the ancestral wild pigeons now live in very closed communities, where there is little human presence, and their hybrid offspring have not yet been able to colonize. While some scientists think they no longer exist, others say – the Faroe Islands or parts of Scotland – may still be home to colonies.

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Thanks to a collaboration with the British Ornithological Fund, researchers led by Smith were able to conduct captures and DNA analyzes to determine whether the pigeons found in these colonies corresponded to wild ancestors of the common pigeon.

The answer was plain and simple: although they weren’t really “the” ancestors, the pigeons in the research sample were closer in DNA “purity” than their wild relatives. Depending on the location, there are varying degrees of interbreeding of species – for example, those found in Orkney are more likely to be replaced by hybrid species. On the other hand, the Outer Hebrides replicas are similar to their predecessors.

“We identified wild pigeon ancestry in the populations we sampled, and wild pigeons have been present in Europe for hundreds of years. So it’s really surprising to find rock pigeons from the Outer Hebrides showing negligible signs of hybridisation,” Smith said.

However, the researcher recognizes that all samples are at risk: hybrid wild pigeons have been seen and reported in the studied areas with increasing frequency. As a result, the already small population is likely to continue to decline.

The entire study has been published in Science Portal iScience.

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