The masked bobwhite (Colinus virginianus ridgewayi), native to southern Arizona and Sonora, is a species of quail on the verge of extinction. Masked bobwhite populations rapidly declined in the mid 1800’s due to widespread habitat destruction. Despite extensive efforts, reintroduction attempts failed and the masked bobwhite was federally listed as endangered in 1967. In 1985, the Buenos Aires Ranch in Sasabe, Arizona, was acquired by the USFWS as a national wildlife refuge for the masked bobwhite. A captive breeding program was established with birds being periodically released. However, surveys conducted for over a decade have shown an overall downward trend in populations in the United States and Mexico. Previous studies have analyzed genetic relationships among northern bobwhites; however, little is known regarding the relationships between masked bobwhite and its Mexican counterparts. The purpose of my research is to resolve taxonomic relationships among quail populations inhabiting geographic regions similar to that of the masked bobwhite. I’ve collected contemporary tissue and museum samples from nine bobwhite subspecies including Texas bobwhite (C. v. texanus), and seven Mexican sub-species. I am employing a high-throughput targeted genomic capture approach, which is very useful for reconstructing the evolutionary history of many organisms.
I will isolate and sequence approximately 5,000 conserved regions to construct phylogenetic trees to identify the closest extant relative of the masked bobwhite. The newly gained taxonomic information will aid the recovery efforts for the endangered masked bobwhite. This data will allow managers to make informed decisions regarding reintroduction or translocations of masked bobwhite.
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This research is fascinating. I would love to learn more about it. I worked at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and assisted the biologist there in 2019 with masked bobwhite recovery efforts such as telemetry and release of chicks with “foster-dad” Texas bobwhites. Will your research be able to answer why the masked bobwhite is struggling so much? I know they lost a lot of their habitat, but is there more to it, genetically? I appreciate your time and hope to hear from you. Thank you, again, for your efforts towards the status of this beautiful bird.
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