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Climate change: UNT researchers monitor quail population

Climate change: UNT researchers monitor quail population

Denton, Texas 04/25/17 A UNT Quail truck parks behind Bruce Hall. UNT Quail conducts research on the northern bobwhite in labs across campus and in field corridors all over Texas. According to their studies, the quail population has declined 80 percent since 1967. Jennyfer Rodriguez

Climate change: UNT researchers monitor quail population
April 26
15:02 2017

New technologies have helped UNT Quail better understand the decline in northern bobwhites population since 1967 throughout the North Texas corridor region.

The organization found pesticides and climate change may be a good explanation for the near-threatened quail population, executive director of UNT Quail Kelly Reyna said.

Quail are an indicator species of the nation’s grasslands, its hunters, landowners and the “health of all Americans,” Reyna said. The grasslands provide many health benefits to humans: clean air, clean water and sequestrated carbon.  

These birds live in grasslands and don’t migrate like most birds do. If the condition of the grasslands goes down, the health of the grasslands declines and the bobwhite population declines as well.

UNT doctoral student Ashleigh Tynes has enjoyed her two-year experience with this program. She has had the opportunity to conduct field research while contributing to two peer-reviewed publications.

“Dr. Reyna has created a lab dedicated to reversing the decline of northern bobwhites by conducting innovative research in order to learn more about the species,” Tynes said.

This program started in 2012 and holds the largest quail monitoring effort in the world. Their lab work is done inside the labs in the Life and Sciences Complex, and their field corridors expand from the Red River all the way down to Waco, spanning around 3 million acres of land, more than three times the size of the state of Rhode Island.

UNT doctoral student Pradeep Khanal said his near year-long experience at UNT Quail has given him exposure to scientific communities, institutions and to local farmers and ranchers.

“As an international student, while conducting field work, it has also provided me an opportunity to closely observe and feel the rural livelihood of American people,” said Khanal.

The program has had a vast focus on climate change, what Reyna explains as hotter hots and colder colds.

“Quail are really affected by stress and by heat stress,” Reyna said. “We look at the way heat shuts down [quail’s] reproduction. The key factor is for bobwhites to reproduce and survive.”

New technologies like mapping and geometric information system help make new quail discoveries.

“Instead of having to have a student out there [in the field] taking all these points, we can do that through satellite imagery,” Reyna said. “Equipment has been getting smaller. In genetics, we have been able to do new sequencing techniques.”

Jeff Whitt, UNT Quail volunteer coordinator and doctoral student, describes his job as “a part-time job and a full-time education.” His dissertation involves him using satellite imagery to detect potential bobwhite habitats and predicts their population’s distribution.

“It’s been a lot of work, but I’ve gotten to travel across Texas and spend a lot of time outdoors,” Whitt said. “During the spring and fall, I go out and listen for bobwhite calls or song in different locations and compile all of that data to estimate the number of bobwhites in a region.”

Quail are economically important to small towns too, Reyna said, as hunters are often a sizable part of a small Texas town’s patronage.

“If there are no quail, then there is no quail hunting, and there is no money for those towns,” he said. “In 2014 we lost more acres of grassland to agriculture, than the Amazon rainforest to deforestation.”

This program looks at ways landowners can manipulate their grasslands without losing money, Reyna said. They work with cattle grazing, pesticide research and in their laboratory, they reflect on the environmental factors they collected in the fields.

Reyna strives for the program to grow and to get a bigger donor base. He claims they are only limited by money. As of now, their funding comes from grants through foundations like Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Quail Coalition and some private donors.

Reyna explained he found a love for quail at the age of 10 after a hunting experience with his father.

“These birds erupted from the ground, it was like a thunder,” Reyna said. “It was exhilarating, my heart was pounding. I asked my dad, ‘what is that?’ and he said it was ‘quail’. I was hooked.”  

Featured Image: A UNT Quail truck parks behind Bruce Hall. UNT Quail conducts research on the northern bobwhite in labs across campus and in field corridors all over Texas. According to their studies, the quail population has declined 80 percent since 1967. Jennyfer Rodriguez

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Jacqueline Guerrero

Jacqueline Guerrero

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