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The extinct passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America, and possibly the world. While theory predicts that large populations will be more genetically diverse and respond more efficiently to selection, passenger pigeon genetic diversity was surprisingly low. To investigate this we analysed 41 mitochondrial and 4 nuclear genomes from passenger pigeons, and 2 genomes from band-tailed pigeons, passenger pigeons' closest living relatives. We find that passenger pigeons' large population size allowed for faster adaptive evolution and removal of harmful mutations, but that this drove a huge loss in neutral genetic diversity. These results demonstrate how great an impact selection can have on a vertebrate genome, and invalidate previous results that suggested population instability contributed to this species' surprisingly rapid extinction.

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