With the increased attention that golden-cheeked warblers are getting, with efforts to delist the species, I believe it is a great opportunity to educate and inform the lay population, as well as the very active birding community it Texas, about what the demographic recovery means and what it doesn’t. To follow up my talks in the last year with Audubon San Antonio and Texas Ornithological Society, I will be talking about this topic at Travis Audubon in May this year.
Efforts to delist Golden-cheeked warblers in the news… again
The endangered golden-cheeked warbler is making news again. Some groups in the state believe that the bird must be removed from the endangered species list, and hence open up land for urban development. Last time around (in 2015), the USFWS did not find sufficient evidence that the species had recovered enough to be taken off the list. The fact remains that Athrey et al showed in 2011 that the genetic diversity had declined so steeply in the past 100 years, making it quite unlikely that any recent demographic recovery has accompanied by genetic recovery. The magnitude of declines in genetic diversity and increase in population differentiation observed would require tens of generations at least to approach historical levels. Such recoveries are unlikely to happen in a span of 5 or 10 years. Any assessment that includes the published genetic data would agree that golden-cheeked warblers need to remain on the list. I spoke to the San Antonio Express News for an article that appeared March 9th that says as much.
M.S. Biotechnology student Rohit Rohra (set to graduate in May 2017) was awarded the Outstanding Graduate student award following his presentation at the Biotechnology Advisory Council meeting on February 10th. His presentation was on the work he is doing in our lab, analyzing whole genome sequence data from multiple chicken breeds from around the world. His project identified specific high-impact genetic variants unique to specific chicken breeds. Congratulations Rohit!
I went to the PAG meeting in San Diego from the 13th- 17th. It was my first trip to this conference, and was pleasantly surprised at the diversity of topics and expertise there. I hung out with the chicken genomics community who are a very social and welcoming group, and its nice to put faces to names you see on papers. Met some people I know from way back and also a lot of new people. The plenary talks were outstanding, and I especially enjoyed the talk by Dr. Alan Cooper. Definitely planning to go back next year and take the flock with me.
I recently returned from a trip to India where I visited the Wildlife Institute of India, with whom we will be starting some work. My trip included two separate visits to national parks in India. Among the exciting things I got to see were wild Red Junglefowl which were tripping over each other at Rajaji National Park (near Dehradun), and also Gray Junglefowl at Bandipur National Park, not to mention two herds of pachyderms, dozens of peacocks!a myriad of other amazing birds. But these two species had special relevance on this trip and for work in our lab, so made it all the more exciting to have seen them.
Rohit presents his work at campus mini research conference
Congrats to Rohit on his presentation at the Biotechnology mini-research conference. This was an opportunity for him to present a poster on research he completed during the Spring 2016 semester. His poster was titled: “In silico verification of miRNAs in the chicken genome”. Nice job Rohit!
Undergrad Jason Pizzini graduated in Dec 2015, but will be returning (hopefully) to complete some left over lab work.
Undergrad Hamza Khan will be returning as well to continue his project on nutrition-micriobiome interactions in wild birds.
We are about to travel to Tennessee to bring back some Red Junglefowl (Richardson’s strain). This is a big moment for our program. Red Junglefowl are considered the principal ancestor to all domesticated chicken. In their native range in Asia they face decline due to shrinking habitat but also threats from another source – namely introgression with domesticated chicken. The Red Junglefowl we are getting come from a pure line of birds that were imported by the U.S. in the 1960s. These birds have many secrets to reveal about chicken domestication, avian health and generally about avian evolution.
It will be a busy semester as far as teaching goes. I am teaching POSC 414 – Avian Genetics, but also EEBL 605 – Population and Quantitative Genetics (shared with Michel Slotman).
Measuring dispersal in birds by mapping genealogies
This one was a while in the making, but its finally out: my new paper published in PLoS One. This work took the spatial genetic data collected from Black-Capped Vireos to its logical extreme, by using it to estimate parentage information within the population, and infer offspring dispersal distances based on that data. Happy to see this get published, and thanks to a skeptical anonymous reviewer, who really helped make it a better paper.