As sage-grouse dance on their breeding leks each spring, they end up losing a few feathers. Between 2009 and 2012, agency biologists and technicians—and Audubon volunteers—collected those dropped feathers and turned them over to scientists for analysis. That feather collection, along with blood samples taken for another project, are the basis of a newly released genetics study on Montana’s sage-grouse populations.
In all, feathers or blood samples were taken from 1,499 individual sage-grouse from 297 leks. The paper (cross_etal_2016_hierpopstructgsgmgmtboundarydelineation), recently published in Conservation Genetics, gives us a hint at the relationship between different sage-grouse populations in the state.
Based on the research, scientists recommend that Montana’s sage-grouse populations be divided into five management groups or subpopulations. A map (see right) shows where these subpopulations are located. Understanding sage-grouse genetics and how different subpopulations are related sheds light on how on-the-ground management decisions might maintain population-important grouse corridors in the future.