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Sierra Nevada May Have Own Owl Subspecies

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Sierra Nevada May Have Own Owl Subspecies

Postby Ozark Flip » Wed Sep 29, 2010 6:50 am

An endangered great gray owl population in Yosemite National Park and surrounding areas of the Sierra Nevada may actually be its own subspecies, according to park researchers.
Among 167 species of resident and migratory birds, Yosemite National Park is home to approximately 150 great gray owls.
This is estimated to be 65 percent of the great gray owl population in California, according to a park news release.
Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said the owls in the park represent about 90 percent of what researchers think is a new subspecies, Strix nebulosa yosemitensis. The remainder make their homes primarily in national forest lands surrounding the park, which include the Stanislaus National Forest.
Earlier scientific research on great gray owls shows that only two other subspecies have been recognized: Strix nebulosa nebulosa in North America and Strix nebulosa lapponica in Europe and Asia.
The great gray owl is a state-recognized endangered species and is a large-bodied raptor that is also found in Asia and Europe, park officials said. Scientific research conducted during the past several years has shown that the great gray owls found in and around Yosemite National Park are genetically distinct from other great gray owl populations, Gediman said.
In addition to genetic differences, scientists have also observed behavioral differences in the Yosemite subspecies, the press release stated. These include different migration patterns, prey preference and nest site selection. Each of these characteristics show that the Sierra Nevada population of great gray owls has been isolated from other populations for an extensive period of time, possibly tens of thousands of years, Gediman said.
“Their feathers and coloring have adapted the brownish-gray coloring that allows them to camouflage themselves within the surroundings of Yosemite,” he said. “Their (diet) has adapted to the small rodents and squirrels available in the park and other nearby areas of the Sierra. These are subtle differences, not startling differences.”
Gediman adds that the owls’ population has declined through the years, as development has encroached on habitat outside protected lands. Yosemite provides a relatively unchanged range for the owls, he said.
“Future research in Yosemite National Park will allow us to identify specific characteristics of the great gray owls in the park, and to further study their habitat,” said Niki Nicholas, Yosemite’s chief of resources management and science. “National parks like Yosemite, that provide nearly intact ecosystems, are critically important to both identify new species of plants and animals and to provide a laboratory in which to conduct scientific study.”
Park officials said future research on the great gray owl in Yosemite can help develop a genetic technique to identify individual owls from their molted feathers. Such a non-invasive research method could allow scientists to study survival rates, reproduction patterns and other important information through the DNA found in the feathers. The research method is also designed to mitigate negative impacts on the great gray owl population in the park.

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Re: Sierra Nevada May Have Own Owl Subspecies

Postby rlown » Thu Sep 30, 2010 1:27 pm

nice post, Flip.. Not sure i agree with the isolated for "tens of thousands of years" part.. If you're gonna live up there, i think you adapt year to year, based on what you can eat. Then, evolution takes over. If you survive, you pass it on, so to speak. not sure that adaptation takes tens of thousands of years..

Kind of like dropping fish in a fishless lake and saying, do your best, only they didn't "fly" in by themselves.. still, they adapt and live.
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