Final results from the genetic analysis of the Egyptian vulture in the Balkans and Turkey


In the last 30 years, the Balkan population of the Egyptian vulture has decreased by over 80% and its range has fragmented considerably. This may increase the risk of reduced gene flow and increased genetic drift, resulting in the loss of genetic diversity and an increase in inbreeding, which in turn reduces the adaptive potential of the population and the fitness of individuals. Within the LIFE+ project “The Return of the Neophron” a genetic study of the Balkan and Turkish Egyptian vulture populations was conducted to assess the contemporary and past genetic patterns and better calibrate the impact of genetic factors on population viability.

Samples were collected from 42 contemporary (2010 – 2013) and 18 museum specimens (dated as far back as 1853 and distributed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries) in Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. Obtained results support that Balkan population is differentiating from the historical one more quickly than the Turkish population. The Egyptian vulture population in Turkey is closest to Balkans and with the estimated 1,500- 3,000 pairs is considered the second largest breeding pool of the species in Europe, after Spain Given this, it would be feasible to reinforce the Balkan population with birds from Turkey, but this type of active management cannot be approached without addressing the main causes of population decline, and taking into account potential negative effects associated with the movement of animals between isolated breeding nuclei. Under this scenario, and not only due to genetic constraints but also demographic factors, the maintenance of the Balkan population seems to be extremely precarious and extinction may be unavoidable within a few decades without urgent conservation measures undertaken to stop the main limiting factors associated with non-natural mortality and negative effects of genetic drift. Thus, management programs should include the reinforcement of the Balkan population and systematic genetic monitoring in order to avoid inbreeding depression, to maximize the genetic diversity and thereby, to increase the long-term population viability.

The full genetic report is available here.

LIFE+ project The Return of the Neophron, BSPB, Egyptian vulture, genetic analysis