Using genomics to resolve spatial structure and taxonomy in Atlantic puffin (completed)

This multidisciplinary project addresses a pressing global concern –the worrying decline and deterioration of seabirds

About the project

The status of the world’s seabirds has deteriorated at an alarming rate over the past decades, with currently nearly half of the species experiencing significant declines. Threats affecting the birds come from both sea-based (e.g. commercial fisheries, pollution, plastics) and land-based sources (e.g. alien invasive predators, habitat degradation, human disturbance, direct exploitation).

Climate change may amplify any one or all of these threats. Seabirds have an integral place in coastal culture, economy and ecosystem, and their declines therefore pose a serious risk to European cultural history, coastal tourism, and the coastal nutrient cycles. Nevertheless, there remains a fundamental lack of knowledge on spatial population structure or even taxonomy, which is greatly hampering conservation management. Here, we are the first to create a genome-wide perspective of modern population structure in the iconic Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica).

Our work will provide the basis for the identification of relevant conservation units and help resolve the species’ long debated taxonomy.


In order to fully understand the impacts of threats throughout the puffins’ range, we urgently require improved genomic resources. In this study we will address this lack of resources, and provide a novel understanding of the taxonomy and spatial structure in Atlantic puffins. First, we will generate a de novo reference genome using 10X genomics methodology, which will greatly aid any future genomic studies on this species.

Second, we will skim-sequence 24 Atlantic puffins (3 per colony) from 8 different colonies
spread throughout the geographic range of the species covering the earlier recognized size
categories. Our efforts will provide a first whole genome genetic understanding of spatial
structure and taxonomy in the Atlantic puffin. SEAPOP ( and SEATRACK
( have confirmed access to the necessary samples.

The research team has an interest to combine state-of-the-art genomic data with extensive and long-term ecological knowledge to understand fine-scale dynamics within and among seabird populations, with the eventual goal to better understand and manage the threats these populations are facing.


This project is funded by the Nansenfondet (Nansenfondet website)

UiO Project Number: 461601


Published Jan. 13, 2021 1:58 PM - Last modified Jan. 13, 2021 1:58 PM