Multiple and independent phases of transposable element amplification in the genomes of piciformes (woodpeckers and allies)

Joseph D. Manthey, Robert G. Moyle, Stéphane Boissinot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The small and conserved genomes of birds are likely a result of flight-relatedmetabolic constraints. Recombination-driven deletions andminimal transposable element (TE) expansions have led to continually shrinking genomes during evolution of many lineages of volant birds. Despite constraints of genome size in birds, we identified multiple waves of amplification of TEs in Piciformes (woodpeckers, honeyguides, toucans, and barbets). Relative to other bird species' genomic TE abundance (<10% of genome), we found ∼17-30% TE content inmultiple cladeswithin Piciformes. Several families of the retrotransposon superfamily chicken repeat 1 (CR1) expanded in at least three different waves of activity. The most recent CR1 expansions (∼4-7% of genome) preceded bursts of diversification in the woodpecker clade and in the American barbets + toucans clade. Additionally, we identified several thousand polymorphic CR1 insertions (hundreds per individual) in three closely related woodpecker species. Woodpecker CR1 insertion polymorphisms are maintained at lower frequencies than single nucleotide polymorphisms indicating that purifying selection is acting against additional CR1 copies and that these elements impose a fitness cost on their host. These findings provide evidence of large scale and ongoing TE activity in avian genomes despite continual constraint on genome size.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1445-1456
Number of pages12
JournalGenome biology and evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • CR1
  • Diversification
  • Genomics
  • Transposable elements
  • Woodpeckers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Multiple and independent phases of transposable element amplification in the genomes of piciformes (woodpeckers and allies)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this