Thursday, June 11, 2009

Inbreeding a Problem for Spotted Owls

A new study reveals that maintaining genetic diversity is becoming difficult for Spotted Owl populations:

Now, a new study in Conservation Genetics points to the limited DNA pool of the remaining birds as a previously unrecognized reason for their continued decline. Because of this genetic “bottlenecking,” spotted owl populations may be more likely to inbreed and also less resilient to environmental variability, the researchers write. They found the problem was worst in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, an area that has also seen larger population declines.

Most recently, the blame for the spotted owls’ woes has largely fallen on the larger and more aggressive barred owl, an invasive species that has rapidly encroached on its endangered neighbors’ turf. But the authors write that genetic declines are what could potentially funnel the northern spotted owl into an “extinction vortex,” although their data does not reach a verdict one way or another.
The study concludes that whatever new recovery plan the Obama administration proposes will need to account for this problem.