Greater Prairie Chicken Appears On Comeback Trail In Illinois

clining wildlife population.

The research began in 1963 and involved the work of 29 teams of two to 15 researchers and field assistants from numerous jurisdictions. Each year researchers methodically documented yearly changes in prairie-chicken numbers and nesting success.

The nine authors of the paper, in addition to Westemeier and Brawn, were Scott A. Simpson and Terry L. Esker of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Newton; Roger W. Jansen of the Douglas-Hart Nature Center, Mattoon; Jeffrey W. Walk and Eric L. Kershner , U. of I. department of natural resources and environmental sciences; and Juan L. Bouzat and Ken N. Paige, U. of I. department of ecology, ethology and evolution. Simpson and Esker directed the transfer of non-resident birds into Illinois.

As part of the project, Paige and Bouzat determined by genetic analysis, including that of museum specimens from the 1930s, that the isolated Illinois birds had been part of a much larger population, and they concluded that a lack of genetic diversity resulted from population decline. Specifically, they found that 95 to 100 percent of the alleles - alternative genes that provide the codes for particular characteristics - present in the Illinois birds also were in the birds in other states, and that the other populations contained additional alleles that provide for greater fitness. Somewhere in time, perhaps in the 1970s, the Illinois birds lost about one-third of that diversity in their genetic makeup.

The Paige-Bouzat findings, Brawn said, possibly explained a decline in hatching rates of eggs, from a 93 percent success rate in the 1930 to just 38 percent by 1990. By 1996, with the importation of birds, fertility had risen and the hatching rate rose to 94 percent. "We don't have absolute smoking-gun evidence, but this is an unusually strong case where everything seems to corroborate it," he said.

Researchers also had documented that no major environmental or climatic events c

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

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