Learning as much as possible about what makes an animal tick is the surest path to conservation solutions for that animal. For golden eagles, the main problems to survival come down to conflicts with humans, through habitat destruction, hunting, purposeful and inadvertent poisoning, and collisions with manmade objects. In fact, the species' decline has been significant enough in the U.S. that it was given federally protected status in 1963. Sequencing the species' genome can go a long way in figuring out methods for protecting the species from these and other threats.

For instance, we know that wind turbines and flying creatures don't get along. Conservationists have been dealing with the conflicting issue of increasing renewable energy through wind farms, but at the expense of bats, birds and other creatures. Figuring out ways to both increase renewable wind energy and protect wildlife such as the golden eagle has led to some interesting possible solutions, including painting turbines with specialized paint. But rather than blindly grasping at possibilities, scientists are looking directly at the DNA of golden eagles to find out more about how they function and as a result, how to keep them away from wind turbines.

"A complete sequence of the golden eagle genome can facilitate the conservation of this species in a number of ways," writes the team of researchers in a study published in April on PLOS One. "Scientists have hypothesized that raptors might be better able to avoid these structures if they were coated with ultraviolet-reflective paint. The color vision system is undescribed in golden eagles, however. The golden eagle genome sequence can be used to determine whether the color vision system is violet-tuned or ultraviolet-tuned, shedding light on whether UV-reflective paint has potential merit."

"The research also suggests that golden eagles may have a very sharp sense of smell, indicating that the birds may rely more heavily on the sense to locate prey than long believed. Meanwhile, the genetic markers can also help scientists track the evolution of different families of genes and identify potential golden eagle pathogens, parasites, and symbiotic organisms, says J. Andrew DeWoody, study co-author and geneticist at Purdue University," writes Todd Petty in Audubon Magazine.

The researchers note in their study that "scores of complete mammalian genomes have been sequenced, but only about a dozen avian genomes have been published," which means that the successful sequencing of the golden eagle's DNA is a win both for the species and avian species in general.

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Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.

Golden eagle genome sequencing reveals clues to conservation
New knowledge about the raptor's senses guides decisions for protecting the species.