It Takes a Genetic Village: Saving the Florida Scrub-Jay
“Everything counts in large amounts …”
That lyric may be all well and good for Depeche Mode (make that, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shortlisted Depeche Mode), but sometimes, smaller amounts count just as much.
Take the Florida Scrub-Jay. (Photo above by Louise Hunt, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) At just about 5,000 individuals, Florida’s only exclusive endemic is Endangered. And with the bird’s oak scrub habitat rapidly disappearing, scientists are searching for ways to preserve the species.
New research in Current Biology suggests that concentrating efforts on saving the remaining four large populations of the Florida Scrub-Jay isn’t all that’s needed. It turns out that smaller, scattered “satellite” groups of the bird are a source of needed genetic diversity when individuals leave the satellites and join the main populations. Consequently, their breeding efforts with resident birds produce more and healthier offspring than “inbred” resident-resident pairings.
As researcher Nancy Chen (formerly of Cornell University and now with the University of California, Davis) put it in a press release, “It’s important to consider preserving small and even inbred populations … as they may play a vital role in preserving genetic diversity in larger and seemingly stable populations.”
Or as Lin-Manuel Miranda might say, “Immigrants—we get the job done.”