• The University coordinates the first Survey about the Cantabrian Capercaillie

    April 20, 2011

    The research will determine the degree of inbreeding, stress and other key aspects to preserve the species

    Example of the displacements of three individuals registered in the sampling
    A team coordinated from the University of Oviedo and with the participation of researchers from the CSIC, the Museum of Natural Sciences of Buenos Aires (Argentina) and the University of Exeter (United Kingdom), has determined, for the first time, the size of the population that the Cantabrian capercaillie has in the South-west of Asturias by using genetic methods. The study estimates that about 144 capercaillies live in this area, a figure that exceeds the researchers' initial expectations.

    According to the preliminary data from this project, funded by the Principality of Asturias through the Science, Technology and Innovation Plan, the minimum number of capercaillies that compose the population of the Asturian South-west amounts to 94 specimens. "Although we knew that we would detect more capercaillies with genetic analysis of samples than with direct observation, the presence of capercaillies has exceed our expectations", says Mario Quevedo de Anta, teacher of University of Oviedo and researcher of the Mixed Unit of Biodiversity formed by the CSIC, the Principality of Asturias and the University of Oviedo.

    To reach this first genetic census, researchers have detected a total of 60 capercaillies in the study area, of which 30 were located in the Nature Reserve of Muniellos. But how is the total of capercaillies estimated just from the detection of their excrements? "We have used a similar technique to capture, marking and recapture, which is well known in the field of population studies that allow us to determine the total number of individuals that compose a population with a known margin of error. For that purpose, we take into account some aspects such as the percentage of the same birds' faeces are repeated in each sample", the researcher points out. Specifically, they have identified that there is a 95% of chances that the capercaille's population in the southwest of Asturias will be between 94 and 164 individuals, though the most likely value is 144 specimens.

    Along with the number of capercaillies, another aspect that has attracted researchers' attention is that animals do not seem to make large displacements during the mating season. As Mario Quevedo emphasized "individual's movements detected in the mating season was less than a kilometre, and there isn't constancy of any in the study areas, such as the shade between Degaña and Muniellos". However, researchers have stressed that larger shifts can appear when accumulating more results.

    The origin of the genetic material that researchers have analyzed is in the faeces collected during the spring, when the mating season takes the capercaillies to go to particular places in order to display their exhibits. "We identify each capercaillie through the genetic analysis of the cells located in the intestinal epithelium, which emerge in the faeces. This method allows us to find more capercaillies than through direct observation, which is more adequate to study aspects related to the behaviour of these birds", tells Mario Quevedo.

    In addition, the technique used let us determine critical aspects for the conservation of the species that are not observable to the naked eye: "With the obtained samples we'll be able to determine the degree of inbreeding of the capercaillies population, the genetic exchange among capercaillies of diverse valleys, the displacement of individuals across the territory, apart from differentiating whether the detected individual is male of female", says Mario Quevedo.

    The project, coordinated by María José Bañuelos, a researcher from the Mixed Unit of Biodiversity CSIC- Principality- UO, aims to identify the health and viability of the capercaillies' population in one of the best current shelters of this bird: the Mountains of Muniellos and the Natural Reserve of Fuentes del Narcea, Ibias and Degaña.

    To achieve this, the collaboration of research centres is needed: Paola Laiolo holder scientific at the Asturian Mixed Unit of CSIC, analyses the role of the song in the viability of capercaillies' population. On the other hand, Guillermo Balnco, researcher of the National Museum of Natural Sciences of Madrid- CSIC and Jesús Lemús, of the Biological Station of Doñana-CSIC, are tracking indicators of stress hormones and reproductive status with the parasites and pathogens from the collected faeces. Rolando Rodríguez, belonging to the University of Exeter (United Kingdom) and Patricia Mirón of the Museum of the "Bernardino Rivadavia" Natural Museum of Buenos Aires, are in charge of the genetic censuses, family relations and the degree of inbreeding among individuals. They collaborate with some researchers of the Mixed Unit CSIC-Principality-UO and Alberto Fernández, of the Biological Station of Doñana- CSIC. Young researchers such as Beatriz Blanco and María Morán, from the University of Oviedo and Alberto Fameli, from the University of Buenos Aires, are also involved in this project.

    Source: FICYT
    Images: Mario Quevedo de Anta

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