Taxonomic Uncertainty

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Taxonomic uncertainty can be assessed using genetic data, along with other lines of evidence (such as morphological and behavioral characteristics). Such data can be used to identify and assess taxonomic boundaries (species, subspecies, hybrids) and in many cases redefine them. Such delineations are highly relevant for species status determinations (endangered, threatened, or at-risk).

Boreal toad on a burned log.

Boreal toad on a burned log. USGS Public domain.

Identifying Patterns of Genetic Divergence and Units for Conservation in the Boreal Toad Species Group (Anaxyrus boreas) - Principal Investigator - Sara Oyler-McCance

As previous genetic analyses of the boreal toad (particularly in regard to the Eastern Population DPS) have provided inconclusive results that are not sufficient for delineating conservation units, additional research is required that will apply new approaches to identify and delineate groups of boreal toads. DNA sequence data from nuclear and mitochondrial genes combined with new genomic methods using SNPs will refine our understanding of the genetic structure within the Eastern Population and can advance our understanding of taxonomic boundaries and adaptation in the boreal toad. This research is in collaboration with Florida Gulf Coast University and USFWS.



Image: Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)

Sandhill crane. John J. Mosesso, USGS Public domain.

Sandhill Cranes in Colorado’s San Luis Valley: Exploring Field and Laboratory Technology for Improved Population Assessments - Principal Investigator - Sara Oyler-McCance

There are principally two subspecies of sandhill cranes in North America, greater sandhill cranes that breed throughout the inter-mountain west, and Lesser sandhill cranes that breed in Siberia and Alaska. In route to the wintering grounds, these two subspecies mix at important stop-over sites in the San Luis Valley. The proportion of each of these two species in the San Luis Valley is unknown and this information represents a critical need for the management of these populations. This project aims to estimate the proportion of each subspecies by genotyping DNA from feathers collected in the San Luis Valley.



A male lesser prairie-chicken.

A male lesser prairie-chicken. Dan Wundrock, Public domain.

Investigating a Zone of Hybridization Between Greater and Lesser Prairie-chickens in Northern Kansas - Principal Investigator - Sara Oyler-McCance

Range expansion of Lesser Prairie-chicken in the northern portion of its range has brought populations of the Lesser Prairie-chicken into contact with the Greater Prairie-chicken, which offers the potential for hybridization, genetic introgression, and complication of the conservation status. The goal is this study is to determine the degree to which hybridization is occurring. We are documenting contemporary gene flow between Greater and Lesser Prairie-chickens in this area, confirming hybridization between these species. This research is in collaboration with Texas A&M-Kingsville, Oregon State University, University of North Texas, University of Oklahoma, and the Sutton Avian Research Center.

Taxonomic Uncertainty - Completed Research
Image: Greater Sage-Grouse

Evaluation of Genetic, Behavioral and Morphological Distinctness of Greater Sage-grouse in the Bi-State Planning Area - Principal Investigator - Sara Oyler-McCance

The goal of this study was to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the boundaries of this genetically unique population (where the Bi-State population begins) and to examine the genetic structure within the Bi-State, which is needed to help guide effective management decisions. Our genetic data supports the idea that the Bi-State population represents a genetically unique population and identified the Pine Nut Mountains to be the northern boundary of the Bi-State population.  We also found three distinct subpopulations (southern Pine Nut Mountains, mid Bi-State, and White Mountains) within the Bi-State that would benefit from conservation and management actions.


Investigating the Taxonomic Status of Sheath-tailed Bat - Principal Investigator - Sara Oyler-McCance

The Pacific Sheath tailed bat (Emballonura semicaudata) occurs in the southwestern Pacific and populations on many islands have declined or disappeared. One subspecies (E. semicaudata rotensis) occurs in the Northern Mariana Islands, where it has been extirpated from all but 1 island (Aguiguan). We assessed genetic similarity between the last population of E. s. rotensis and 2 other subspecies, and examined genetic diversity on Aguiguan. We sampled 12E. s. rotensis, sequenced them at 3 mitochondrial loci, and compared them with published sequences from 2 other subspecies. All 12 E. s. rotensis had identical sequences in each of the 3 regions and was consistently more closely related to E. s. palauensis than E. s. semicaudata.