Great Bustards are endangered in Central Asia and their populations are often highly fragmented.  Our team examines the extent of genetic isolation, using DNA from bustard feathers which are unobtrusively collected from places where bustards gether. These analyses will provide information about population structure and the effect of different barriers on the movement of these birds.

New Research: Great Bustard Subspecies Genetically Distinct

Our research group has published findings resulting from a decade of work collecting genetic samples (dropped feathers!) from endangered populations of Great Bustards across Asia. We find high levels of genetic differentiation in the mitochondrion, and a long history of isolation, between the two subspecies of Great Bustard. These findings heighten urgency for conservation of the eastern subspecies of Great Bustard, of which only approximately 2000 individuals remain. Here is a link to the article, published in the Journal of Heredity. June 2018


Genetic Differentiation Between Subspecies

Preliminary analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequences in Mongolian and Western European Great Bustards indicates that these two groups are genetically distinct. We are currently analyzing samples collected from Great Bustard populations in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan populations fall between the Mongolian populations and populations from the rest of Europe and should tell us more about genetic structure of Great Bustards across their range. We hope to add sequence data from one or more nuclear markers for both the Kazakhstan and Mongolian birds in the very near future, and are in the initial stages of selecting potential markers and getting them to work with DNA from our dropped feather samples. May 2015


Mitochondrial DNA Investigations

We are currently comparing genetic composition of Mongolian Great Bustards with their European counterparts to investigate genetic divergence between Asian and European populations and evaluate the subspecies classification of Asian Great Bustards. December 2012


Microsatellite Work Begins

Collaborators at Willamette College have begun screening microsatellite loci (highly variable genetic markers) which were originally developed for European Great Bustards and Houbara Bustards for variation within our Asian subspecies of Great Bustard.  Differences in microsatellite variation within and between populations can help us understand patterns of gene flow and the degree of genetic diversity in rsity in Central Asia. September 2010


Feather Collection 2010

This fall our team collected approximately 600 moulted feathers from Great Bustards in northern Mongolia! October 2010


New Mongolian Bustard Population Centers Identified

This fall the research team toured new areas of Northern Mongolia in search of new Great Bustard population centers. We identified previously uncatalogued Great Bustard migration gathering points. Detailed interviews with local residents lead us to believe that two of these are also "leks," or traditional bustard breeding display arenas. If this is confirmed in the spring, these sites will be listed with the Mongolian government for greater protection. September 2008


Population Genetics Lab Work Begins

Over 1000 feathers were collected in the course of field work in Mongolia in 2007. Collecting dropped feathers is a non-invasive technique which is especially useful for increasing the number of birds we can sample to study the population genetics of this wary and difficult-to-capture bird. A. Kessler is beginning lab work at Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences to extract DNA from these feathers. December 2007