Rapid loss of flight in the Aldabra white-throated rail

van de Crommenacker, J., Bunbury, N., Jackson, H. A., Nupen, L. J., Wanless, R., Fleischer-Dogley, F., Groombridge, J. J. & Warren, B. H., 23-Dec-2019, In : PLoS ONE. 14, 12, p. e0226064 19 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

  • Janske van de Crommenacker
  • Nancy Bunbury
  • Hazel A. Jackson
  • Lisa J. Nupen
  • Ross Wanless
  • Frauke Fleischer-Dogley
  • Jim J. Groombridge
  • Ben H. Warren
Flight loss has evolved independently in numerous island bird lineages worldwide, and particularly in rails (Rallidae). The Aldabra white-throated rail (Dryolimnas [cuvieri] aldabranus) is the last surviving flightless bird in the western Indian Ocean, and the only living flightless subspecies within Dryolimnas cuvieri, which is otherwise volant across its extant range. Such a difference in flight capacity among populations of a single species is unusual, and could be due to rapid evolution of flight loss, or greater evolutionary divergence than can readily be detected by traditional taxonomic approaches. Here we used genetic and morphological analyses to investigate evolutionary trajectories of living and extinct Dryolimnas cuvieri subspecies. Our data places D. [c.] aldabranus among the most rapid documented avian flight loss cases (within an estimated maximum of 80,000–130,000 years). However, the unusual intraspecific variability in flight capacity within D. cuvieri is best explained by levels of genetic divergence, which exceed those documented between other volant taxa versus flightless close relatives, all of which have full species status. Our results also support
consideration of Dryolimnas [cuvieri] aldabranus as sufficiently evolutionary distinct from D. c. cuvieri to warrant management as an evolutionary significant unit. Trait variability among closely related lineages should be considered when assessing conservation status, particularly for traits known to influence vulnerability to extinction (e.g. flightlessness).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e0226064
Number of pages19
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 23-Dec-2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Aldabra Atoll, evolutionary significant unit, extinction, rapid evolution of flightlessness, isolated island population, Rallidae, taxonomic status

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