Effects of climate change on nutrition and genetics of White-tailed Ptarmigan

Studies in Avian Biology
By: , and 
Edited by: Brett K. SandercockKathy Martin, and Gernot Segelbacher



White-tailed Ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura) are well suited as a focal species for the study of climate change because they are adapted to cool, alpine environments that are expected to undergo unusually rapid climate change. We compared samples collected in the late 1930s, the late 1960s, and the late 2000s using molecular genetic and stable isotope methods in an effort to determine whether White-tailed Ptarmigan on Mt. Evans, Colorado, have experiences recent environmental changes resulting in shifts in genetic diversity, gene frequency, and nutritional ecology. We genotyped 115 individuals spanning the three time periods, using nine polymorphic microsatellite loci in our genetic analysis. These samples were also analyzed for stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition. We found a slight trend of lower heterozygosity through time, and allelic richness values were significantly lower in more recent times, but not significantly using an alpha of 0.05 (P < 0.1). We found no changes in allele frequencies across time periods, suggesting that population sizes have not changed dramatically. Feather δ13C and δ15N values decreased significantly across time periods, whereas the range in isotope values increased consistently from the late 1930s to the late time periods. Inferred changes in the nutritional ecology of White-tailed Ptarmigan on Mt. Evans relate primarily to increased atmospheric deposition of nutrients that likely influenced foraging habits and tundra plant composition and nutritional quality. Future work seeks to integrate genetic and isotopic data with long-term demographics to develop a detailed understanding of the interaction among environmental stressors on the long-term viability of ptarmigan populations.

Additional publication details

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Effects of climate change on nutrition and genetics of White-tailed Ptarmigan
Series title Studies in Avian Biology
ISBN 9780520270060
Volume 39
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher University of California Press
Publisher location Berkeley, CA
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 12 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Ecology, conservation, and management of grouse (Studies in Avian Biology no. 39)
First page 283
Last page 294
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