Birds of prey (raptors) are dominant apex predators in terrestrial communities, with hawks (Accipitriformes) and falcons (Falconiformes) hunting by day and owls (Strigiformes) hunting by night.
Here, we report new genomes and transcriptomes for 20 species of birds, including 16 species of birds of prey, and high-quality reference genomes for the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo), oriental scops owl (Otus sunia), eastern buzzard (Buteo japonicus), and common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). Our extensive genomic analysis and comparisons with non-raptor genomes identify common molecular signatures that underpin anatomical structure and sensory, muscle, circulatory, and respiratory systems related to a predatory lifestyle. Compared with diurnal birds, owls exhibit striking adaptations to the nocturnal environment, including functional trade-offs in the sensory systems, such as loss of color vision genes and selection for enhancement of nocturnal vision and other sensory systems that are convergent with other nocturnal avian orders. Additionally, we find that a suite of genes associated with vision and circadian rhythm are differentially expressed in blood tissue between nocturnal and diurnal raptors, possibly indicating adaptive expression change during the transition to nocturnality.
Overall, raptor genomes show genomic signatures associated with the origin and maintenance of several specialized physiological and morphological features essential to be apex predators.
Keywords: Raptor, De novo assembly, Comparative genomics, Evolutionary adaptation, Predatory lifestyle, Nocturnality