Past Volcanic Activity Predisposes an Endemic Threatened Seabird to Negative Anthropogenic Impact

Teixeira, H., Le Corre, M., Michon, L., Nicoll, M.A.C., Jaeger, A., Mikolic, N., Pinet, P., Couzi, F., Humeau, L. (2024). Past volcanic activity predisposes an endemic threatened seabird to negative anthropogenic impact. Molecular Ecology.


Humans are regularly cited as the main driver of current biodiversity extinction, but the impact of historic volcanic activity is often overlooked. Pre-human evidence of wildlife abundance and diversity are essential for disentangling anthropogenic impacts from natural events. Réunion Island, with its intense and well-documented volcanic activity, endemic biodiversity, long history of isolation and recent human colonization, provides an opportunity to disentangle these processes. We track past demographic changes of a critically endangered seabird, the Mascarene petrel Pseudobulweria aterrima, using genome-wide SNPs. Coalescent modeling suggested that a large ancestral population underwent a substantial population decline in two distinct phases, ca. 125,000 and 37,000 years ago, coinciding with periods of major eruptions of Piton des Neiges. Subsequently, the ancestral population was fragmented into the two known colonies, ca. 1500 years ago, following eruptions of Piton de la Fournaise. In the last century, both colonies declined significantly due to anthropogenic activities, and although the species was initially considered extinct, it was rediscovered in the 1970s. Our findings suggest that the current conservation status of wildlife on volcanic islands should be firstly assessed as a legacy of historic volcanic activity, and thereafter by the increasing anthropogenic impacts, which may ultimately drive species towards extinction.

DOI: 10.1038/s41598-024-52556-9