Greater Prairie Chicken Appears On Comeback Trail In Illinois

findings of the paper, Westemeier said, indicate "the need for grassland habitat and for sufficiently large populations," and it raises a bigger question of just what makes a viable population to assure a species' survival. Co-author Jeffrey D. Brawn agrees: "Viability is really the key word," he said. "This is how we gauge how self-sustaining a population is. If it is viable, it means it is producing enough young to persist.

"We're cautiously hopeful that they are making a comeback," said Brawn, a scientist with the Illinois Natural History Survey and an affiliate of the University of Illinois department of ecology, ethology and evolution. "The message of this paper is that fragmentation and habitat loss can really lead to a number of problems in conserving species. In this case, these factors led to genetic problems. What was interesting is that the people who manage the population did their best, going to extraordinary measures to preserve this population over the years, yet it kept going down and down, owing to the fact that it was just a small relic population that had low genetic diversity.

"What we did by bringing in the other birds for genetic management is a classic case that importation of birds from healthy populations elsewhere can work," Brawn said. "It may not work every time. We were able to base the effort on an immense amount of information collected by Ron Westemeier. Mixing stocks depends a lot on the adaptations of different populations elsewhere. If we had brought in prairie chickens from Texas, which had adapted to the hot climate there, we may not have had the same success."

The success - in which more than 500 birds were brought in beginning in 1992 from larger populations in Minnesota, Kansas and Nebraska - could serve as a model to save dwindling populations of wild species from extinction, the researchers say. The 35 years of data represent one of the most detailed sets of data ever collected from an isolated and de

Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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