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For more information on species & ecosystem science:

Wildlife Science
360-902-2515
wildthing@dfw.wa.gov

Fish Science
360-902-2700
fishpgm@dfw.wa.gov

Habitat Science
360-902-2534
habitatprogram@dfw.wa.gov

 
 

Lead Scientist: Michael A. Schroeder

Ecoregions: Columbia Plateau, Coast Range, Cascades, Willamette Valley, North Cascades, Eastern Cascade Slope and Foothills, Northern Rockies, Blue Mountains, Puget Lowlands

Ecological Systems: Inter-Mountain Basins Big Sagebrush Steppe, Inter-Mountains Basins Big Sagebrush Shrubland, Columbia Plateau Steppe and Grassland, Northern Rocky Mountain Dry-mesic Montane Mixed Conifer Forest, Northern Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine Woodland and Savanna, Columbia Plateau Scabland Shrubland, Columbia Basin Foothill and Canyon Dry Grassland, Northern Rocky Mountain Lower Montane - Foothill and Valley Grassland, Northern Columbia Plateau Basalt Pothole Ponds, Columbia Basin Foothill Riparian Woodland and Shrubland, East Cascades Mesic Montane Mixed-Conifer Forest and Woodland, North Pacific Dry-mesic Silver Fir-Western Hemlock-Douglas Fir Forest, North Pacific Hypermaritime Sitka Spruce Forest, North Pacific Maritime Dry-mesic Douglas Fir-Western Hemlock Forest, North Pacific Maritime Mesic Subalpine Parkland, North Pacific Maritime Mesic-Wet Douglas Fir Western Hemlock Forest, North Pacific Mesic Western Hemlock-Silver Fir Forest, Northern Rocky Mountain Mesic Montane Mixed Conifer Forest, Northern Rocky Mountain Subalpine Woodland and Parkland, Rocky Mountain Lodgepole Pine Forest, Rocky Mountain Subalpine Dry-mesic Spruce-Fir Forest and Woodland, Rocky Mountain Subalpine Mesic-wet Spruce-Fir Forest and Woodland, North Pacific Avalanche Chute Shrubland, Northern Rocky Mountain Lower Montane Riparian Woodland and Shrubland, Rocky Mountain Subalpine-Montane Riparian Woodland, Northern Rocky Mountain Subalpine Deciduous Shrubland, Rocky Mountain Aspen Forest and Woodland, North Pacific Dry and Mesic Alpine Dwarf-Shrubland - Fell-Field and Meadow, Rocky Mountain Alpine Dwarf Shrubland, Rocky Mountain Alpine Fell-Field, Rocky Mountain Alpine Turf, Inter-Mountain Basins Montane Sagebrush Steppe, North Pacific Alpine and Subalpine Dry Grassland, North American Glacier and Ice Field, North Pacific Alpine and Subalpine Bedrock and Scree

 
Click on photo to enlarge
Click on photo to enlarge
  Capture of grouse, such as with this male dusky grouse, enables accurate measurements to be taken as well as blood samples.
 
Click on photo to enlarge
Click on photo to enlarge
  Comparison of male sooty grouse (left) and dusky grouse (right). These species used to be combined into a single ‘blue grouse’ species.
 
Click on photo to enlarge
Click on photo to enlarge
  Comparison of male Franklin’s spruce grouse (left) and Canada spruce grouse (right). Currently these have sub-species classification.
 
Click on photo to enlarge
Click on photo to enlarge
  Comparison of male greater sage-grouse (left) and Gunnison sage-grouse (right). The Gunnison sage-grouse has long, thick filoplumes behind the head (extending upward), the tail feathers have distinct horizontal bars, and the birds are significantly smaller. Photos by Robert E. Bennetts
   

Grouse Ecology

Phenotypic and Genetic Variation in Grouse

Project Description

Phenotypic and genetic variation can have important ramifications for grouse conservation and management. In some cases, regional variation can reflect natural and/or adaptive variation between populations, subspecies, and species. In the case of sage-grouse, phenotypic, behavioral, and genetic variation resulted in the taxonomic reclassification of sage-grouse as two distinct species; the greater sage-grouse which is found throughout most of the range, including Washington, and the Gunnison sage-grouse which occurs mostly in Colorado. Phenotypic variation in blue grouse resulted in their recent taxonomic reclassification as dusky grouse and sooty grouse. Current research of phenotypic, behavioral, and genetic variation in spruce grouse may support a future taxonomic ‘split’ of this species. This type of variation can influence numerous management decisions including: (1) harvest regulations; (2) protective status; and (3) translocation efforts.

Regional variation in genetics also can reflect connectivity within and between populations. This type of connectivity can be an indicator of stress associated with the health of the habitat/ecosystem. For example, loss of habitat and/or connections between areas of occupation can reduce the potential for movement of grouse throughout the broader region. This restriction in movement can result in higher mortality, increased potential for inbreeding, and extirpation of local populations. Some of these issues can be detected with the aid of genetics. Because genetic information for grouse can be extracted from feathers, collection of feather samples is increasingly becoming standard protocol.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is leading and/or cooperating with various projects on phenotypic and genetic variation in grouse. These efforts include:

  1. range-wide assessment of dusky and sooty grouse (Dr. George Barrowclough, American Museum of Natural History);
  2. regional assessment of spruce grouse (Dr. George Barrowclough, American Museum of Natural History);
  3. range-wide assessment of sharp-tailed grouse (Molecular Genetics Laboratory, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife);
  4. regional assessment of greater sage-grouse (Molecular Genetics Laboratory, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife);
  5. and range-wide assessment of white-tailed ptarmigan (Dr. Sara Oyler-McCance, U.S. Geological Survey).

Key Findings

  • Regional phenotypic and genetic variation in dusky and sooty grouse is relatively large, even within each species. There is considerable regional phenotypic and genetic variation for both sooty and dusky grouse.
  • There is significant regional phenotypic and genetic variation among spruce grouse, particularly in central British Columbia and southeastern Alaska.
  • Range-wide phenotypic and genetic variation in sharp-tailed grouse is relatively small suggesting that population fragmentation is a ‘recent’ event.
  • Range-wide phenotypic and genetic variation in greater sage-grouse illustrates the population isolation of sage-grouse within Washington.

What’s New

  • Opportunistic collection of tissue samples (mostly feathers) is continuing for some species of grouse as part of standard protocol.
  • Genetic research on greater sage-grouse is continuing in an effort to examine issues related to connectivity conservation.

Selected Publications

Partners

All photos unless otherwise indicated are courtesy of Michael A. Schroeder