A bird in hand is worth two in the bush -- and maybe even more.
This past Monday
, biologists from the USGS Western Ecological Research Center, the San Diego Zoo
and the Nature Reserve of Orange County
teamed up at the world-famous Safari Park
to study the cactus wren
), a songbird listed as a Species of Special Concern in California and protected under the Migratory Bird Act.
The experienced researchers carefully captured these plucky chirpers
-- which are experts at flying in and out of thorny thickets of cacti and bushes -- and collected blood samples from each bird. USGS researchers also trained zoo staff on proper capture techniques.
DNA in the blood will be analyzed by USGS researchers to understand the population genetics
of the local cactus wren.
In 2007, the Witch Creek wildfire that devastated San Diego County also destroyed and split up much of the wren’s cactus scrub habitat -- habitat that also supports a wide variety of other unique creatures -- with 600 acres burned at the Safari Park alone.
events like the Witch Creek fires are known to fragment animal populations as well -- splitting up once-connected populations into isolated groups, which leads to inbreeding and reduced genetic diversity
. Decreased genetic diversity may increase a species’ chance of extinction.
So, genetic analysis on the blood samples will help biologists understand how the local cactus wren population is faring after the fires. The findings could help the Safari Park figure out what type of habitat restoration plans are needed -- plans that might lead to more cactus wrens and improved population recovery.
"Our goal in this research is to determine how connected cactus wren populations are to one another and to be able to use this information to inform cactus wren habitat restoration projects," says Barbara Kus
, a lead scientist at WERC who helped lead Monday's effort
. "And also, this Safari Park study will contribute to an ongoing USGS effort investigating how habitat fragmentation impacts wildlife populations throughout Southern California and Nevada."
Click the image below to check out the Flickr photo gallery of Monday's cactus wren capture from the San Diego Zoo:
-- Ben Young Landis
All images courtesy of the San Diego Zoo.
Story updated May 13, 2011, 15:30 PDT.