A lesser prairie-chicken conversation with an old grouse buddy of mine lead to an update on our current grouse pursuits. He shared with me the fact that he does white-tailed ptarmigan surveys just to try to find and possibly estimate the number of birds in New Mexico (the most southern portion of their alpine range). I told them I was on a mission to find some of my own for different reasons here in the North!
He mentioned a research effort to use DNA from feathers to determine whether populations are mixing or if they've been separated and are now isolated. The biggest obstacle to genetic testing is contamination. I've copied and pasted the feather collection protol below in this post. Watch for an update as I've contacted the Principal Investigator in Colorado to see if there is any way that hunter-harvested specimens can still contribute to the genetic sampling effort.
If you happen to be out and find white-tailed ptarmigan feathers and you are packing a zip-loc and GPS please collect a feather or two. I can serve as a regional contact and I would certainly be willing to foot the bill for sending samples in. *After reading the end of the protocol, it seems USGS may be interested enough to pay for them to be sent. Thank you for taking the time to consider this request and contributing to knowledge of this neat bird through your local efforts (wings and tails to ADFG) and those abroad.
***PROTOCOL FOR THE OVERALL STUDY***
Collection of White-tailed Ptarmigan feathers from alpine areas
We are attempting to assess connectivity of White-tailed ptarmigan populations both regionally and across the species range. We are hoping to enlist the help of biologists who are in the field doing white-tailed ptarmigan occupancy surveys or other related alpine field work. We are hoping to have feathers collected from as many areas (peaks) as possible throughout the species range. When possible, we would like you to pick up any ptarmigan feathers that you may find from each site you visit. Please place each individual feather in a separate Ziploc bag unless they are physically attached to one another (as on a carcass) or unless they are known to have come from one bird. Because we are dealing with very small amounts of DNA, the feathers can be easily contaminated so they need to be collected in a particular way. The supplies you will need are:
Small plastic Ziploc type bags
1 large paper envelope for each area
A pencil or permanent marker
Procedure: We are hoping to obtain feathers from as many different individuals as possible. Therefore, it is best if you do not pick up all feathers from the exact same location, as they are likely to come from the same one or two individuals. Essentially, we are looking for the bird equivalent of a hair follicle to extract DNA from. Please put only one feather in each Ziploc. When you have found the feather, pick it up by putting the Ziploc bag inside-out on your hand and use the bag to pick it up. If you have a GPS unit with you, please record the coordinates of each feather on the outside of the Ziploc bag (or on a piece of paper that you slide inside the bag). After you have collected feathers from a specific area, in different bags, please put all the bags from that one area into your large paper envelope. Seal the envelope and label it with the name of the area (or peak), UTM coordinates, date, and your name and contact information (so we know who you are if we have questions and so we know who to thank). Feathers can be stored dry at room temperature. Collection of ~ 20 - 30 different samples from different places on one mountain top (peak) would be ideal. If you find fewer than 20, that is fine and we can use these feathers. If you are attending or surveying multiple different peaks along a range, it would be helpful to collect samples from each peak. Samples from different areas on a peak can all be placed in one labeled envelope.
1. Bring along the plastic bags and paper envelope
2. Use one plastic bag to pick up one feather
3. Make sure the Ziploc is closed very tightly (label it with coordinates if they are available)
4. Put all Ziploc bags (tightly sealed) into the envelope from a given peak
5. Seal the envelope tightly and label it with some form of area identification or name, County, State, UTM coordinates, including projection and zone (i.e., NAD83, Zone 13), Date (please spell month in letters), and Your Name and contact information
6. Envelopes with feathers can be stored in a dry place at room temperature out of direct sun light
7. Once feather collection is complete contact Sara Oyler-McCance who will be collecting the samples and conducting the genetic analyses
Sara Oyler-McCance, 2150 Centre Ave Building C, Fort Collins, CO 80526