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Golden eagle genome sequenced: New help for conservation efforts

Sequencing an animal’s genome may not just be good for learning more about a species; it could also help with conservation efforts. Researchers have managed to sequence the genome of the golden eagle, revealing new features about the raptor that could help preserve it for generations to come.

In the past, most assumed that golden eagles had a keen sense of vision. Yet this latest study actually hints otherwise. This finding in particular could be huge when it comes to dealing with problems for the species, such as wind turbines.

“Having the golden eagle genome in hand could directly affect the way we make conservation and management decisions,” said Jacqueline Doyle, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The golden eagle, while being widespread, is threatened throughout much of its ranged. The species is faced by poaching, shrinking habitats and fatal collisions with wind turbines. In fact, an estimated 67 golden eagles are killed annually at a single wind farm in central California. That’s a heavy toll for a species that reproduces slowly and can live up to 30 years.

In order to combat this issue, some recently proposed coating the wind turbines with ultraviolet-reflective paint. At one point, golden eagles were thought to be sensitive to ultraviolet light. Yet this latest study reveals that the eagle vision is rooted in the violet spectrum-like human sight-rather than the ultraviolet.

“We find little genomic evidence that golden eagles are sensitive to ultraviolet light,” said Doyle in a news release. “Painting wind turbines with ultraviolet-reflective paint is probably not going to prevent eagles from colliding with turbines.”

The findings don’t just reveal more about the golden eagle’s traits, though. It could also allow scientists to track the evolution of different families of genes and identify potential golden eagle pathogens, parasites and symbiotic organisms. This, in turn, could lead to efforts that are better targeted for the eagle’s conservation.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS One.