Commun Biol 5 (1) 857 [2022-08-23; online 2022-08-23]
The New World Vulture [Coragyps] occidentalis (L. Miller, 1909) is one of many species that were extinct by the end of the Pleistocene. To understand its evolutionary history we sequenced the genome of a 14,000 year old [Coragyps] occidentalis found associated with megaherbivores in the Peruvian Andes. occidentalis has been viewed as the ancestor, or possibly sister, to the extant Black Vulture Coragyps atratus, but genomic data shows occidentalis to be deeply nested within the South American clade of atratus. Coragyps atratus inhabits lowlands, but the fossil record indicates that occidentalis mostly occupied high elevations. Our results suggest that occidentalis evolved from a population of atratus in southwestern South America that colonized the High Andes 300 to 400 kya. The morphological and morphometric differences between occidentalis and atratus may thus be explained by ecological diversification following from the natural selection imposed by this new and extreme, high elevation environment. The sudden evolution of a population with significantly larger body size and different anatomical proportions than atratus thus constitutes an example of punctuated evolution.