Conservation Genetics of the Endangered Seychelles Magpie-Robin (Copsychus sechellarum)

University of Bristol
Bristol, England
DOI: 10.18258/8213
Raised of $1,900 Goal
Funded on 6/26/17
Successfully Funded
  • $1,900
  • 100%
  • Funded
    on 6/26/17

About This Project

My research concerns the population genetics of the Seychelles Magpie Robin. This species is listed as 'Endangered' on the IUCN Red List. This research will contribute a unique genetic component to the long-term management programme already in place. A recent, rapid decline in one island's population highlights the fragility of the species, and marks an important time to implement new conservation methods to save one of only 12 bird species endemic to Seychelles.

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What is the context of this research?

Once 'Critically Endangered' with a population of only 12 individuals on the island of Frégate, 1965, Copsychus sechellarum was downlisted to 'Endangered' in 2005 following extensive conservation efforts of BirdFair International, RSPB and The Seychelles Magpie Robin Recovery Team. The population is now at ~280 individuals, and is still considered one of the rarest birds in the world. Current threats include founder effects and the risk of inbreeding depression due to small population sizes on isolated islands. Short term effects of reduced genetic diversity include reduced reproduction and survival. Longer term, this actually affects the capacity for a population to evolve in response to environmental pressures like disease, predators and climate change.

What is the significance of this project?

Genetic diversity is key in the long-term survival of a population and has the potential to affect the fitness of a population. This project will investigate:
1) How genetic diversity has been effected with the previous bottleneck of the population;
2) Which genes have been lost/preserved with relocation;
and whether these events have affected the overall health of the population.

This research will gather important data on genetic lineage and life history of the species; will contribute to the long-term monitoring; and will ensure genetic capture for future translocations. This project will be carried out in line with the ‘Conservation Actions Proposed’ on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2016.

What are the goals of the project?

This research will be undertaken for the purpose of an MSc by Research at the University of Bristol, with myself as the principal investigator. Research commences 01/06/2017 with thesis submission no later than 12 months from this date.

This project will examine hundreds of blood samples collected between 1998 and 2017 to investigate potential loss in genetic variation and evaluate population changes.

No genetics work has yet been done on this species, therefore there are no existing microsatellite markers available for genetic screening. These will be developed as part of this project (process outlined in budget).


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The amount raised will be used solely to sequence a large portion of the Seychelles Magpie-Robin genome and to identify and characterise the polymorphic microsatellite markers needed to carry out the genetic screening for this project. The amount requested covers a PacBio run, where sequences are 40kb in length, and are likely to be packed with microsatellites. This will produce between 500MB and 1GB of data (birds have a genome of approximately 1.2GB). Within this, there will be many polymorphic microsatellites to study. The DNA from multiple individuals and sites can be pooled in a sequencing run, and then the most polymorphic markers in the sequence data can be used to examine the variability.

Endorsed by

Emily, whom i met during her time as volunteer, is a very keen and dedicated person. I am confident that her research project in genetics will be of great help in the conservation of the Seychelles magpie-robins.
This project will answer critical questions currently left unanswered in the story of the Seychelles Magpie -Robin. Emily is dedicated and enthusiastic researcher who is sure to meet her goal
Emily has showing great initiative in trying to understand genetic diversity in a Critically Endangered bird species that she has studied in the field. Developing new genetic markers is a fundamental part of her Masters project, and will help in identifying key populations that may need new genetic input, and which individuals might be best suited for translocation. This is a great project with high conservation value, developed by a student with tremendous passion and drive!

Project Timeline

The research will officially commence June 1st, 2017. The aim is to have the samples prepared and ready to be sent to be sequenced within 1 month of the project start date. The estimated return time for the PacBio run is a maximum of two months. The required facilities are not available through the university directly so this must be outsourced to the Centre for Genomic Research, University of Liverpool, UK.

May 05, 2017

Project Launched

Jun 30, 2017

DNA isolation, extraction and PCR.

Aug 31, 2017

PacBio Run

Feb 28, 2018

Genetic screening and analysis

May 31, 2018

Thesis submission

Meet the Team

Emily Cavill
Emily Cavill

Emily Cavill

Last summer I spent two months as a volunteer research assistant for Nature Seychelles, living on Cousin Island, Seychelles. This island has a wealth of data collected over the years on a variety of flora and fauna, and my role as one of the volunteers was to add to that long-term data collection. Here I had the unique and exciting experience of working closely with the Seychelles Magpie Robin. This involved daily monitoring of individuals within each of the territories on the island, recording observations and interactions with other Magpie Robins and their surrounding environment, general maintenance of nest boxes etc. With my budding interest in the Magpie Robins I opted to be involved in the organisation and analysis of the data collected so I could gain a more comprehensive understanding of the island's population.

I graduated from a Medical Sciences undergraduate degree in 2015, an area within which that always had my heart was genetics. When I started doing background reading on the Magpie Robins (as I was keen to learn as much as I could about their history, and how the population I was working with had been established) it came to my attention that no genetics work had been done before, but would be an area of work that would greatly benefit the species. I voiced my interest in undertaking this work on my return to the UK and sent an initial research proposal to the CEO of Nature Seychelles.. It hasn't been the easiest task to communicate between three different countries to get everything in place, but here I am! 8 months later, about to start this exciting research to contribute to the survival of one of the rarest birds in the world - the charismatic Seychelles Magpie-Robin.

Additional Information

Link to Copsychus sechellarum on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species outlining history and conservation efforts already underway:

Project Backers

  • 34Backers
  • 100%Funded
  • $1,900Total Donations
  • $40.29Average Donation
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