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Inbreeding threatens northern spotted owls

Cara J

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Northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) face plenty of external threats, including habitat loss, deforestation and competition from invasive barred owls (Strix varia). They also face threats from inbreeding, according to new research. “A lot of research has gone into studying northern spotted owl dispersal and looking at effects of barred owls and deforestation,” said Mark Miller, a statistician with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center. “All of these things have had an impact on owls. One thing that’s important but is not known about is the extent that inbreeding is occurring in northern spotted owls. We took this up as a challenge. How we could quantify inbreeding rates in northern spotted owls?” In a study published in the Auk: Ornithological Advances, lead author Miller and his colleagues developed northern spotted owl pedigrees for almost 14,200 owls that had been collected over 30 years, using a method they developed and described in a 2017 Journal of Heredity in 2017 paper. “We need to know the parents, the grandparents and even the great-grandparents,” Miller said. “These data are not often available. There are ways to account for missing information to figure out how common inbreeding is.” The [...]

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