Bat with white-nose syndrome. Photograph by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
White-nose syndrome (WNS) and/or Pseudogymnoascus destructans (P.d.), the causal agent, has spread westward across 26 states and 5 provinces within the eastern United States and Canada, respectively, over a short period of time. In 2015, three tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus), a species found primarily in the eastern United States, tested positive for P.d. in eastern Oklahoma. Until March 2016, the discovery of WNS and P.d. in Washington state, these records represented the westernmost occurrence of the disease causing fungus. In addition, records of P.d from eastern Oklahoma are also on the same latitude and trajectory as a possible corridor to the western United States via northeastern New Mexico and southeastern Colorado. In 2003, tri-colored bats were discovered in northeastern New Mexico, thus suggesting that this species is moving into the West via the riparian corridors of northeastern New Mexico.
Given the proximity of Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site (BEOL, approx. 135 km away) in southeastern Colorado and Capulin Volcano National Monument (CAVO, approx. 75 km away) in northeastern New Mexico to the record of P. subflavus recorded in 2003, these two monuments are at the frontline to the introduction of P.d. and WNS. Further, Pecos National Historic Park (PECO) is at an ecotone between grassland-woodland and montane forest relative to the two aforementioned national parks and likely possess a greater diversity of bat species that could be affected by WNS. Overall, these sites serve as critical locations prior to exposure to P.d. for the diagnosis of naturally occurring microbiota that could act as natural defenses against WNS.
During the spring and summer of 2016, FORT Scientist Dr. Ernie Valdez and his collaborators at the University of New Mexico sampled bats from all BEOL, CAVO, and PECO in an effort to document naturally occurring bacteria belonging to the group known as Actinobacteria. In general, this particular group of bacteria is known for producing many of the world’s antibiotics. As shown in previous research by Dr. Valdez and his collaborators, some Actinobacteria sampled from the external surfaces of western bats produce antifungal properties that impact the growth of P.d. (see figure 1). The discovery and future testing of the anti-fungal properties from these bacteria may lend themselves as possible bio-control agents against WNS.
Decision Support for Climate Adaptation in the Upper Colorado River Basin: Why Drought Decision Makers Choose to Use Tools (or Not)
Chris M. Morris, Creative Commons.
Adapting to climate change and variability, and their associated impacts, requires integrating scientific information into complex decision making processes. Recognizing this challenge, there have been calls for federal climate change science to be designed and conducted in a way that ensures the research translates into effective decision support. Despite the existence of many decision support tools, however, the factors that influence which decision makers choose to use which decision support tools remain poorly understood. Using the Upper Colorado River Drought Early Warning System as a case study, this research will 1) examine how managers choose between many available tools and 2) consider how tool creators can better align their offerings to decision maker needs.
1. Improve understanding of:
The factors that influence decision makers’ choices to use decision support tools or not, and how they choose between available tools
How scientists creating decision support tools currently interface with decision makers and how their outreach efforts do or do not match information channels preferred by managers
The role that decision support tools play in drought decision making
2. Provide useful information to the National Integrated Drought Information System about the current use of the Upper Colorado River Basin Drought Early Warning System
Study Area and Scope
The Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) was one of the first pilot areas, beginning in 2008, for implementation of a regional drought early warning system (DEWS) under the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), which now supports ten regional DEWS. The selection of the UCRB for a DEWS reflects the regional importance of drought monitoring for managing water supply for agriculture and other uses, and the need for effective decision support related to drought. New drought-information tools have been developed specifically for the UCRB DEWS, and a number of others have been created since 2008, adding to the pre-existing toolkit for drought decision making. The various tools that are now available in the UCRB region can be expected to be more or less suitable for different decision makers’ needs. As a result, the broad decision context of this case study (managing drought) is fixed, but information needs vary. Thus decision makers will make varied choices about which of the available tools to use or not use.
The overall aim is to juxtapose understanding of the tool development process of tool creators with understanding of the choices made by prospective tool users to incorporate (or not) given decision support tools into their drought decision making. Document analysis will provide context and an official view of tool development or agency decision making. Conversations with scientists creating tools and drought decision makers will be used to understand motivations, priorities, concerns, and tacit influences on behavior.
Evaluation of Genetic, Behavioral and Morphological Distinctness of Greater Sage-grouse in the Bi-State Planning Area
A sage brush habitat. USGS photo.
The goal of this study was to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the boundaries of this genetically unique population (where the Bi-State population begins) and to examine the genetic structure within the Bi-State, which is needed to help guide effective management decisions. Our genetic data supports the idea that the Bi-State population represents a genetically unique population and identified the Pine Nut Mountains to be the northern boundary of the Bi-State population. We also found three distinct subpopulations (southern Pine Nut Mountains, mid Bi-State, and White Mountains) within the Bi-State that would benefit from conservation and management actions.
Z Chromosome Divergence, Polymorphism, and Relative Effective Population Size in a Genus of Lekking Birds
A male sage-grouse. BLM photo.
The goal of this project was to map genetic markers (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms or SNPs) that were identified in comparisons of Greater and Gunnison Sage-grouse to the chicken genome and determine the chromosomal location of each SNP. We wanted to determine where in the genome (which chromosome or chromosomes) housed SNPs with the greatest divergence between Greater and Gunnison Sage-grouse. When we found that the divergence SNPs were on the Z chromosome we evaluated the role of the lek mating system on this phenomenon. Species with more skewed mating systems (such as lekking sage-grouse) had smaller effective population sizes on the Z chromosome which may contribute to the increased divergence on the Z. This research was in collaboration with the University of Colorado, Denver.
Re-examining Patterns of Genetic Variation in Sage-grouse Using Genomic Techniques
A Gunnison Sage-grouse. Photo by Doug Ouren, USGS.
The goal of this study was to use new comprehensive genomic markers to re-examine patterns of genetic variation in sage-grouse focusing on differences between Gunnison Sage-grouse, the Bi-State population of Greater Sage-grouse, and the rest of the range of Greater Sage-grouse. We found that by using genomic methods we were able to reveal that Gunnison Sage-grouse are much more diverged from Greater Sage-grouse than the Bi-State population of Greater Sage-grouse is from Greater Sage-grouse. This study confirms definitively that Gunnison Sage-grouse represent a distinct species and that the Bi-State is a distinct population of Greater Sage-grouse. This study also confirms that Gunnison Sage-grouse have much lower genomic diversity than Greater Sage-grouse. This research was in collaboration with the University of Colorado, Denver.
Incorporating Genetic Data into Spatially-explicit Population Viability Models for Gunnison Sage-grouse
A Gunnison Sage-grouse. Photo by Doug Ouren, USGS.
This goal of this study is to develop a spatially explicit habitat-population modeling framework to assess the viability of Gunnison Sage-grouse and each of the seven populations (Gunnison Basin and six satellite populations). Components of this process include 1) characterizing habitat for the Gunnison Basin and satellite populations, 2) developing a spatially explicit individual-based model, 3) simulating population dynamics and persistence to identify population thresholds and characterize population resiliency, redundancy, and representation (and indicating possible strategies for improvements to these), 4) quantifying the impacts of alternative habitat restoration and translocation strategies on regional and local population persistence, 5) comparing model outcomes to previous PVA approaches and results, and 6) setting the stage for future model applications that comprehensively address specific threats and stressors (e.g., climate change). This research is in collaboration with Colorado State University.
Sandhill Cranes in Colorado’s San Luis Valley: Exploring Field and Laboratory Technology for Improved Population Assessments
A Sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) grazing in a grass field. John J. Mosesso, USGS Gallery photo.
There are principally two subspecies of sandhill cranes in North America, greater sandhill cranes that breed throughout the inter-mountain west, and Lesser sandhill cranes that breed in Siberia and Alaska. In route to the wintering grounds, these two subspecies mix at important stop-over sites in the San Luis Valley. The proportion of each of these two species in the San Luis Valley is unknown and this information represents a critical need for the management of these populations. This project aims to estimate the proportion of each subspecies by genotyping DNA from feathers collected in the San Luis Valley.
Use of Molecular Tagging to Estimate Demographic Parameters in Gunnison Sage-grouse
A male Gunnison Sage-grouse showing his feathers. Photo by Doug Ouren, USGS.
Successful conservation efforts for Gunnison Sage-grouse require an accurate method for inventory and monitoring population sizes. The objective of this study is to examine the feasibility of this molecular application to population size estimation of Gunnison Sage-grouse. Specifically, we are using molecular tagging methods to estimate population sizes on five different leks within the Gunnison Basin using DNA extracted from fecal pellets collected on those leks. This analysis will compare population size estimates made using lek counts with those using molecular tagging methodologies and provide information needed to successfully monitor and manage Gunnison sage-grouse. This research is in collaboration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Monitoring the Distribution of Introduced Lynx in Colorado
A Lynx Canadensis. Photo by E. Bauer, USGS.
In 1999, a Canada Lynx restoration program was initiated by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and has been successful in reestablishing Lynx in Colorado. Current monitoring efforts include confirming occupancy of habitat using fecal DNA methods that confirm species identification as well as individual identification. This research is in collaboration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Estimating Mountain Lion Population Sizes and Demographic Rates in Colorado
A Colorado Mountain lion, taken at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Foothills Wildlife Research Facility in Fort Collins, CO. Photo by Mindy Ritchie, USGS.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is interested in monitoring mountain lion population sizes and demographic rates using mark-recapture techniques. In this study hair and fecal samples are being collected at baited sites opportunistically and used to uniquely identify individuals. This project was initiated to obtain capture/recapture data on mountain lions along the Front Range of Colorado. This research is in collaboration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife