Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Texas A&M researchers map genome for disappearing bobwhite quail


A team led by Texas A&M University researchers has mapped the genome of a popular game bird that has been disappearing at an alarming rate. It took the group two years of six-day workweeks to complete a "first draft genome assembly" for a wild bobwhite quail. The peer-reviewed research was published Wednesday evening in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

The bobwhite is one of the most popular birds to hunt in the U.S., but its population has been decreasing for decades. The chubby, robin-sized quail with a distinctive striped black head is listed as the No. 1 bird in decline in North America by the Audubon Society.

There's no singular agreed upon explanation for the plummeting populations, but the most prevalent explanation is the destruction of habitat.

A 2007 Audubon study said the bobwhite population has decreased from 31 million to 5.5 million. According to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department survey, the number of birds and hunters have sharply declined. The 1993-1994 survey estimated 224,000 hunters killed 4,962,000 birds, but the 2012-2013 survey found that 21,000 hunters killed 141,000 birds.

The draft genome assembly created by A&M will be a resource for researchers to further study the disappearance of the bird and hopefully help to combat it.

A&M assistant professor Chris Seabury headed the research project.

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