The Full Cycle Phenology Project
The Full Cycle Phenology Project brings together a group of diverse and uniquely qualified collaborators from Boise State University, the American Kestrel Partnership, HawkWatch International, St. Mary’s University, Environmental Laboratory of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, and the University of California, Los Angeles. This project will combine cutting edge genetic techniques and a large-scale collaboration of professional and citizen scientists across the western hemisphere to find out more about migratory connectivity, population change, and the impacts of climate change on the American Kestrel and other migratory birds.
We are currently collecting feather samples across the breeding range of the American kestrel for genetic analysis (see Full Cycle Phenology website to get involved).
As part of the Full Cycle Phenology Project, the American Kestrel Partnership (AKP) is collaborating with Boise State University, UCLA, and Hawkwatch International to create the American Kestrel Genoscape Project. This page provides more details on the project, including preliminary results, and highlights the role of our partners in this project. Please read on to learn how to collect and submit samples this 2017 breeding season.
You likely know that all individuals have slight variations in their genetic code. This also goes for populations within a species. Without getting too technical, populations are groups of individuals that interbreed or have the potential to interbreed. Therefore, individuals within a population have more similar genetic codes to each other than to individuals from other populations. By looking at the genetic codes across lots of individuals across space (be it a landscape, state, region, or even continent) we can determine where different populations exist. The map of these genetically distinct populations across geographical space, we call a genoscape (see example below).
Upon understanding a species' genoscape, we can then screen individuals to figure out which population they are from. This is the basis of UCLA's Bird Genoscape Project, which is looking at genetic samples of several migratory bird species to understand where populations breed, migrate, and over-winter for each species. In the map below you see the genoscape and migration map for populations of the Wilson's Warbler from a study led by Kristen Ruegg at UCLA; this was the first map produced using this method and revolutionized how we will understand the migration patterns of avian species. We are using this technique for the American Kestrel Genoscape Project.
The American Kestrel Genoscape will allow us to “track” birds across all seasons. We can collect a feather from a migrating or wintering kestrel and figure out where that bird was born. By following kestrels across their full annual cycle, we can start to look for possible threats to kestrels in those locations since they spend so much of their life away from the breeding grounds. For example, we know that the most severe kestrel declines have taken place in the northeast US: according to the Breeding Bird Survey, American Kestrel breeding populations in the northeast US have declined by 88% since the 1960s! Are these birds facing major threats during migration or while over-wintering? The Genoscape project will get us much closer to answering this important question!
We have started building a genoscape map for breeding American Kestrels using blood collected from birds on their breeding grounds thanks to AKP partners like you! In the map below, you can see our preliminary findings.
To move forward we need to get more samples from across the breeding range to fill in many gaps, particularly in central North America. Check out the map to see where we really NEED samples! This is where YOU come in as an owner of a high priority nest box.