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Genomic differentiation among Northern Goshawks of coastal BC

  • Project Leaders: Darren Irwin, Bryce Bancroft, Steve Gordon
  • Institutions: University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Budget: $102994
  • Program/Competition: User Partnership Program
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2016
  • Status: Closed

The Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) is a large, sturdy hawk that inhabits the Northern Hemisphere. British Columbia is home to two subspecies –coastal (A.g.laingi) and interior (A.g.atricapillus). The smaller and darker laingi subspecies, inhabiting the old-growth and mature forests in Haida Gwaii and possibly other areas of the BC coast, is severely impacted by large-scale timber harvesting in the region and listed as ‘Threatened’ since 2000 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. However, the ambiguity on geographic range and distinctiveness of laingi from atricapillus, which is not endangered, is a challenge to biodiversity managers when zoning towards goshawk conservation. The economic impact of conserving over 10,000 hectares of productive, harvestable coastal forest for laingi protection on timber supply is substantial; potentially much greater impact is associated with management of laingi’s foraging habitat, and the total economic impact is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

To obtain a clear understanding of the genetic differentiation between laingi and atricapillus and determine areas actually inhabited by the laingi subspecies, the BC Ministry of Forest Land Natural Resources Operations & Rural Development, Coast Forest Products Association, and Western Forest Products collaborated with the biodiversity expert Prof. Darren Irwin at UBC. The team developed genomic tools to analyze 450 samples of Northern Goshawks that were collected from Europe and North America, including coastal and interior BC including Haida Gwaii. The outcome revealed two distinct clusters of Northern Goshawks: one corresponding to Haida Gwaii (laingi), and the other (atricapillus) to regions including Vancouver Island, coastal BC, southeast and interior Alaska, Washington state, and eastern North America. Genomic evidence clearly showed that laingi is a distinct subspecies, whose habitat is restricted to Haida Gwaii. The project demonstrated the value of genomics in biodiversity management and provides the basis for effective biodiversity conversation and management by stakeholders from government, public and private sectors.