Kea and Kaka are both native threatened parrot species in New Zealand. The two species are thought to have evolved about 5 million years ago, when the uplifting of the Southern Alps created a new alpine niche that allowed for their ecological differentiation. While the Kaka remained a forest specialist, the Kea is the only alpine parrot in the world and as such is particularly exposed to the effects that the current climate change scenario might have on its preferred habitat. Given the relatedness of the two species and the high degree of conservation in avian genomes in general, it is possible to investigate the Kea’s adaptations to an alpine lifestyle through a genome comparison with Kaka.
Using NGS techniques for this study we sequenced and constructed a Kaka whole genome assembly. We used it in conjunction with the already available resources for the Kea1 to identify the genomic differences between the two species. This whole genome approach enables us to recognise neutral and adaptive variation and to find potential candidate genes that might explain how this species copes with such different habitat and resources. The functional variation identified will offer an insight on the Kea’s resilience to the warming climate and may help to inform management decisions for the future conservation of this and other species linked to the alpine environment.
1 Zhang G, Li C, Li Q, Li B, Larkin DM, et al. (2014). Comparative genomics reveals insights into avian genome evolution and adaptation. Science 346: 1311–20.