Bobwhite quail populations have been decreasing alarmingly for decades, but a draft genome assembly for the species could help save the species, say researchers.
Researchers have completed the first-ever draft genome assembly for a wild bobwhite quail named Pattie-Marie, and their work appears in the current issue of PLoS One.
“By sequencing and assembling the bobwhite quail genome, the team produced the most comprehensive resource currently available for cutting-edge interdisciplinary research in the bobwhite,” says Chris Seabury of Texas A&M University.
One of the most prized American hunting birds, and a cultural icon among outdoor enthusiasts, the bobwhite quail has undergone a mysterious decline that has been documented for more than 50 years. Once present by the millions in the Midwest, South, and Southwest, bobwhite numbers are down as much as 80 percent in some areas.
In Oklahoma, declining bobwhite quail numbers are especially alarming, with one study relating that decline to the number of quail hunters, which has dropped from 111,000 in 1986 to only 30,000 last year.
The Audubon Society recently named the bobwhite quail the number one bird in decline in North America.
In Texas, equally serious declines have also been noted. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department figures, the bobwhite quail has declined every year since 1981.
At present, there appears to be no single or specific reason for the decline. Loss of natural habitat, changes in land use, pesticides, the potential for bird diseases, and even climate change have all been mentioned, but no definitive explanation has been discovered for the quail decline.
“Our study is important because prior to this, we had no ability to use whole-genome technologies to monitor levels of genetic diversity over time, define the genetic relationships among existing populations, or draw important inferences regarding bobwhite physiological interactions with their environment,” Seabury explains.
“We now have a formal resource for studying the bird and identifying new or perhaps even more specific reasons for its serious decline. This resource gives us a way to look at new population and management strategies, but also a means to conduct very detailed molecular studies focusing on ecotoxicology, reproduction, and physiology.
“Now we can peel back new layers of science to thoroughly look at many different levels of the quail problem, including the utilization of whole-genome information for monitoring modern genetic diversity, reconstructing historic population trends, and even considering genetic similarity in relation to the translocation of wild bobwhites to suitable habitats.”
Scientists from the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, the University of Missouri, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M’s department of wildlife and fisheries science, and private industry contributed to the study, which private donations from Joe Crafton, members of Park Cities Quail, and the Rolling Plains Quail Research Foundation funded.
Source: Texas A&M University