NYUAD Researchers Explore the Long-Standing Sociocultural Connection between Falcons and Humans

Researchers from NYUAD examine the diversity, evolutionary history, and genomics of falcons.

Press Release

Falcons are important birds, both biologically and culturally in the MENA region and beyond. In a new review article drawing upon more than 150 scientific papers, researchers from the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at NYU Abu Dhabi examine the diversity, evolutionary history and genomics of falcons in the context of their conservation and interactions with humans. The researchers offer perspective on the remarkable potential of utilizing new genomic approaches to expand our understanding of these areas. 

Over thousands of years, humans and falcons have developed unique relationships through falconry, religious rituals, conservation efforts and other interactions. Yet, from an evolutionary perspective, falcons remain an enigma. To date, researchers have likely only captured a very small fraction of genetic variation within falcon species. Most of the genes, or alleles that could be responsible for observable variation in falcons remain unknown.

Justin Wilcox, postdoctoral associate, working in The Evolutionary Genomics Lab at NYU Abu Dhabi.

In the article, published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, authors NYUAD Postdoctoral Associate at the Evolutionary Genomics Lab Justin Wilcox, NYUAD Program Head of Biology Stéphane Boissinot, and NYUAD Assistant Professor of Biology Youssef Idaghdour write that falcons have experienced several recent adaptive radiations, or development of new subspecies, around the world. This newly-developed diversity, which has resulted in many “genomic peculiarities”, means there is incredible potential for genome-wide approaches to studying falcons. The high levels of diversity in falcons also makes them exceptional candidates for studying how and why new species arise at the genomics level. Collectively, this research has great potential to inform conservation efforts in other species and provide insights into the process of domestication and adaptation to humans in wild animals. 

“Falcons are exceptionally important culturally and have several unique biological traits that make them important targets for genomic research. Our paper documents how enhanced research on falcons is necessary and important to a broad array of sub-disciplines in ecology, and evolutionary biology.”


Justin Wilcox, postdoctoral associate

The Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at NYUAD is continuing to sequence several falcon species and subspecies, utilizing the latest technologies that have significantly decreased sequencing costs. Wilcox added: “Falcons have great potential as a research system and our work is helping to unlock and develop the research potential of falcons.”

About NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and research campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly selective undergraduate curriculum across the disciplines with a world center for advanced research and scholarship. The university enables its students in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and arts to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world and advance cooperation and progress on humanity’s shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi’s high-achieving students have come from over 115 countries and speak over 115 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.