Anthropogenic impact and loss of genetic diversity threaten more than 50% of raptors. These threats are particularly pronounced for island- endemic species, which occupy small areas, making them more vulnerable to rapid environmental changes. The Reunion harrier (Circus maillardi) is a typical example of the challenges encountered by island- endemic species. In this study, we characterize genetic variation at near-neutral and coding loci to test the historical impact of human activity on harrier populations, and evaluate their (mal)adaptive potential. We observed low but significant genetic differentiation between populations on the West and North-East sides of the island, echoing observations in other endemic species. Inbreeding was significant, with a substantial fraction of samples being first or second-degree relatives. Historical effective population sizes have declined from ~3000 to 300 individuals in the past 1000 years, with a more recent drop ~100 years ago consistent with human activity. Based on our simulations and comparisons with a close relative (Circus melanoleucos), this demographic history may have allowed purging of the most deleterious variants, but is unlikely to have allowed the purging of mildly deleterious variants. Our study provides an example of the massive impact that human activity may have on the genetic diversity and adaptive potential of island populations, and calls for urgent action to closely monitor the reproductive success of such endemic populations, in association with genetic studies.
Taxon-specific characteristics and extrinsic climatic and geological forces may both shape population differentiation and speciation. In geographically and taxonomically focused investigations, differentiation may occur synchronously as species respond to the same external conditions. Conversely, when evolution is investigated in taxa with largely varying traits, population differentiation and speciation is complex and shaped by interactions of Earth’s template and species-specific traits. As such, it is important to characterize evolutionary histories broadly across the tree of life, especially in geographic regions that are exceptionally diverse and under pressures from human activities such as in biodiversity hotspots. Here, using whole-genome sequencing data, we characterize genomic variation in populations of six Ethiopian Highlands forest bird species separated by a lowland biogeographic barrier, the Great Rift Valley (GRV). In all six species, populations on either side of the GRV exhibited significant but varying levels of genetic differentiation. Species’ dispersal ability was negatively correlated with levels of population differentiation. Isolation with migration models indicated varied patterns of population differentiation and connectivity among populations of the focal species. We found that demographic histories—estimated for each individual—varied by both species and population but were consistent between individuals of the same species and sampling region. We found that genomic diversity varied by half an order of magnitude across species, and that this variation could largely be explained by the harmonic mean of effective population size over the past 200,000 years. Overall, we found that even in highly dispersive species like birds, the GRV acts as a substantial biogeographic barrier.