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Population Genetic Analysis of Black Swift

A picture of a genetic analysis. USGS image.
A picture of a genetic analysis. USGS image.

The purpose of this study is to investigate population genetic structure of Northern Black Swift populations throughout portions of their range in the United States, important information used for conservation prioritization. In addition, this study will document the degree of connectivity among colonies and levels of diversity within them, as well as examining site fidelity of individual birds.

Examining Range-wide Connectivity in White-tailed Ptarmigan

A White-tailed Ptarmigan on Mt. Evans in Colorado. Photo by Cameron Aldridge, USGS.
A White-tailed Ptarmigan on Mt. Evans in Colorado. Photo by Cameron Aldridge, USGS.

The goal of this study is to document levels of connectivity among white-tailed ptarmigan populations. Our preliminary results, based on microsatellite loci, revealed that there is significant population genetic structure throughout the species’ range. The Colorado and Vancouver Island populations were the most isolated and there was limited connectivity among populations in Alaska, the Yukon, Washington, and Montana. There is little evidence for movement from Colorado northward or from Vancouver Island eastward, raising concerns for the long term viability of two subspecies. As these areas are most impacted by climate change, this lack of connectivity to the core part of the range may have implications for the species’ ability to track shifting habitats due to warming climates.

Bat Monitoring and White-nose Syndrome

Laura Ellison, Ecologist, was interviewed by a reporter from Georgia Public Radio for a story on bat monitoring and white-nose syndrome (WNS). Ellison was interviewed about declining bat populations and the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat). NABat provides standard guidelines for scientists and wildlife agencies to collect bat data uniformly and the ability to submit data to a centralized location. The story aired on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” on August 19, 2015.

National Geographic Magazine Features USGS Scientist

FORT research ecologist, Dr. Craig D. Allen, is featured in the April issue of National Geographic magazine in the article, "The Bug That’s Eating the Woods--A warming climate allowed pine beetles (Dendroctonus ponderosae) to ravage the West. Now they’re spreading east across Canada."  Based on field interviews in his home landscape of northern New Mexico, Allen provides a larger global change context to the warming-related die-offs of forests across large portions of western North America.

Effects of Climate Change on White-tailed Ptarmigan Using Genetics, Stable Isotopes, and Population Demographic Methodologies

White-tailed ptarmigan. USGS photo.
A white-tailed ptarmigan. USGS photo.

Investigation into the interaction between ecological and evolutionary responses to global change is an important aspect of climate change studies. An understanding of the genetic basis of phenotypes under selection allows for the prediction and mitigation of climate change effects on the viability of populations. To address this issue, USGS scientists are documenting changes in genetic diversity and allele frequencies in white-tailed ptarmigan from Mt. Evans, Colorado, over a 40-year time span. We also are comparing current levels of diversity and patterns of allele frequencies within a northern population of the species on Vancouver Island, Canada. Further, we are attempting to identify genetic markers under selection and to determine whether these markers can be correlated with environmental changes associated with climate change.

This study will employ genetics, stable isotope analysis, and traditional population demographics methodologies. This work is novel in that:

  • Investigators are probing climate change-related effects on an alpine species;
  • 40+ years of demographic data interspersed with tissue samples that further extend to the late 1930s are available; and
  • Analyses are focused on identifying genes under selection, then merging demographic and genetic data with stable-isotope-inferred resource use to tell a comprehensive story about the white-tailed ptarmigan population ecology in a changing alpine habitat.

Partners in Flight Coordinator for USGS

Partners in Flight
Partners in Flight Logo

Partners in Flight (PIF) is an interagency, interorganizational coalition working together to promote bird conservation. As the research agency in the Department of the Interior, USGS has a responsibility to participate in and contribute to avian conservation planning and science. It is necessary to have designated representatives from USGS who participate regularly in PIF and transmit information about PIF to the appropriate contacts within USGS. This task provides USGS with a designated Partners in Flight Coordinator/contact to ensure that (1) USGS interests are represented within PIF, (2) PIF information is disseminated throughout the USGS, and (3) the USGS is capable of incorporating PIF’s bird conservation priorities into its science plans and budgets. The PIF Coordinator for USGS represents USGS at regular national and international PIF meetings and contributes regularly to the international PIF Science Committee on avian research and monitoring issues.

Constructed Wetlands for Biological Sustainability

During June 13-16, USGS scientists Joan (Thullen) Daniels, Steffanie Keefe, and Larry Barber will present a paper entitled "Influence of hummocks and emergent vegetation on hydraulic performance in a surface-flow wastewater-treatment wetland" at the 10th American Ecological Engineering Society annual meeting (AEES) in Quebec City, Canada. The AEES meeting is being held in conjunction with The International Commission of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (CIGR) 17th World Congress, along with several other international associations.

New Paper on Bat Fatalities at Wind Turbines Available Online

A new paper, "Causes of Bat Fatalities at Wind Turbines: Hypotheses and Predictions," published in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of Mammalogy and has been selected as the featured article for that journal on BioOne. It will be available as an open-access publication (free to download) for the next few months at

Diagnosing Didymo: International Workshop Addresses Spread of Diatom

Didymosphenia is a freshwater diatom that has begun to bloom with increasing frequency in rivers and streams. These "didymo" mats cover the stream substrate and alter the habitat of other algae, invertebrates, and fish, posing major management challenges. To address the problem, USGS ecologist Sarah Spaulding co-organized the International Didymosphenia Workshop in Montréal, at which the most recent scientific results on didymo were presented to scientists, managers, and agencies.

USGS Scientist on "Grassland Species of Common Conservation Concern" Committee

Dr. Fritz Knopf has been asked by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) to be one of 3 U.S. participants on a 9-person steering committee to plan, organize, and conduct an international symposium on "Grassland Species of Common Conservation Concern." The date and location of the symposium is undetermined. The CEC is an international organization created by Canada, Mexico and the United States under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC).