Date: June 3, 2020
Source: University of Wyoming
A University of Wyoming researcher led a study of great gray owls in a four-state region, showing that range discontinuity could lead to genetic drift and subsequent loss of genetic diversity in these birds.
Lower genetic diversity in these owls means they are more susceptible to changes in their environment and, thus, less able to adapt quickly.
"With lower genetic diversity, such owls have less ability to adapt to changes that include extreme fire effects on their habitats; human developments; stresses caused by diseases such as West Nile virus and trichomonas, a nasty parasite that damages their oral cavity and can lead to starvation; and other diseases," says Holly Ernest, a UW professor of wildlife genomics and disease ecology, and the Wyoming Excellence Chair in Disease Ecology in UW's Department of Veterinary Sciences and the Program in Ecology. "Another stress can be overzealous photographers who get too near nesting sites and scare great gray owl moms and dads off their nests and endanger the nestlings."
Ernest was the senior and corresponding author of a paper, titled "Population Genomic Diversity and Structure at the Discontinuous Southern Range of the Great Gray Owl in North America," that was published online May 31 in Conservation Genetics, a journal that promotes the conservation of biodiversity. The journal publishes original research papers, short communications, review papers and perspectives. Contributions include work from the disciplines of population genetics, molecular ecology, molecular biology, evolutionary biology, systematics, forensics and others.
Beth Mendelsohn, a 2018 UW Master of Science graduate in veterinary sciences and the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, from Missoula, Mont., is the paper's lead author. Mendelsohn is now a raptor biologist conducting research to improve owl and hawk conservation in Rocky Mountain ecosystems.