Blood parasites in owls with conservation implications for the Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis).
ABSTRACT: The three subspecies of Spotted Owl (Northern, Strix occidentalis caurina; California, S. o. occidentalis; and Mexican, S. o. lucida) are all threatened by habitat loss and range expansion of the Barred Owl (S. varia). An unaddressed threat is whether Barred Owls could be a source of novel strains of disease such as avian malaria (Plasmodium spp.) or other blood parasites potentially harmful for Spotted Owls. Although Barred Owls commonly harbor Plasmodium infections, these parasites have not been documented in the Spotted Owl. We screened 111 Spotted Owls, 44 Barred Owls, and 387 owls of nine other species for haemosporidian parasites (Leucocytozoon, Plasmodium, and Haemoproteus spp.). California Spotted Owls had the greatest number of simultaneous multi-species infections (44%). Additionally, sequencing results revealed that the Northern and California Spotted Owl subspecies together had the highest number of Leucocytozoon parasite lineages (n = 17) and unique lineages (n = 12). This high level of sequence diversity is significant because only one Leucocytozoon species (L. danilewskyi) has been accepted as valid among all owls, suggesting that L. danilewskyi is a cryptic species. Furthermore, a Plasmodium parasite was documented in a Northern Spotted Owl for the first time. West Coast Barred Owls had a lower prevalence of infection (15%) when compared to sympatric Spotted Owls (S. o. caurina 52%, S. o. occidentalis 79%) and Barred Owls from the historic range (61%). Consequently, Barred Owls on the West Coast may have a competitive advantage over the potentially immune compromised Spotted Owls.
Project description:State and federal actions to conserve northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) habitat are largely initiated by establishing habitat occupancy. Northern spotted owl occupancy is typically assessed by eliciting their response to simulated conspecific vocalizations. However, proximity of barred owls (Strix varia)-a significant threat to northern spotted owls-can suppress northern spotted owl responsiveness to vocalization surveys and hence their probability of detection. We developed a survey method to simultaneously detect both species that does not require vocalization. Detection dogs (Canis familiaris) located owl pellets accumulated under roost sites, within search areas selected using habitat association maps. We compared success of detection dog surveys to vocalization surveys slightly modified from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Draft 2010 Survey Protocol. Seventeen 2 km × 2 km polygons were each surveyed multiple times in an area where northern spotted owls were known to nest prior to 1997 and barred owl density was thought to be low. Mitochondrial DNA was used to confirm species from pellets detected by dogs. Spotted owl and barred owl detection probabilities were significantly higher for dog than vocalization surveys. For spotted owls, this difference increased with number of site visits. Cumulative detection probabilities of northern spotted owls were 29% after session 1, 62% after session 2, and 87% after session 3 for dog surveys, compared to 25% after session 1, increasing to 59% by session 6 for vocalization surveys. Mean detection probability for barred owls was 20.1% for dog surveys and 7.3% for vocal surveys. Results suggest that detection dog surveys can complement vocalization surveys by providing a reliable method for establishing occupancy of both northern spotted and barred owl without requiring owl vocalization. This helps meet objectives of Recovery Actions 24 and 25 of the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl.
Project description:The northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1990. We applied modern spatial conservation theory and models to evaluate several candidate critical habitat networks, and sought an efficient conservation solution that encompassed the highest value lands for spotted owl recovery rather than maximizing the total area of potential critical habitat. We created a map of relative habitat suitability, which served as input to the spatial conservation prioritization program Zonation. We used the spatially-explicit individual-based population model HexSim to estimate and compare simulated spotted owl population outcomes among a suite of candidate critical habitat networks that varied in size and spatial arrangement under alternative scenarios of future habitat suitability and barred owl (S. varia) effects. We evaluated simulated spotted owl population outcomes, including total population size, and extinction and quasi-extinction likelihoods for 108 combinations of candidate critical habitat networks by habitat change by barred owl scenarios, both range-wide and within 11 distinct portions of the owl's range. Barred owl encounter rates and the amount and suitability of habitat had substantial effects on simulated spotted owl populations. When barred owl encounter rates were high, changes in the amount and suitability of habitat had minimal impacts on population performance. Under lowered barred owl encounter rates, candidate critical habitat networks that included most existing high suitability habitat supported a high likelihood of long-term population persistence. Barred owls are currently the primary driving force behind poor population performance of NSOs; however, our models demonstrated that a sufficient area of high suitability habitat remains essential for recovery when effects of barred owls can be reduced. The modeling approach we employed is sufficiently flexible to incorporate new information about spotted owls as it becomes available and could likely be applied to conservation planning for other species.
Project description:Coexistence of ecologically similar species can be maintained by partitioning along one or more niche axes. Three-dimensional structural complexity is central to facilitating resource partitioning between many forest species, but is underrepresented in field-based studies. We examined resource selection by sympatric northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina), a threatened species under the US Endangered Species Act, and nonnative barred owls (S. varia) in western Oregon, USA to explore the relative importance of canopy heterogeneity, vertical complexity of forest, and abiotic features to resource selection and identify potential differences that may facilitate long-term coexistence. We predicted that within home range selection of understory densities, measured with airborne lidar, would differ between species based on proportional differences in arboreal and terrestrial prey taken by each owl species. We used discrete choice models and telemetry data from 41 spotted owls and 38 barred owls monitored during 2007-2009 and 2012-2015. Our results suggested that while both species used tall canopy areas more often than low canopy areas, spotted owls were more commonly found in areas with lower tree cover, more developed understory, and steeper slopes. This is the first evidence of fine-scale partitioning based on structural forest properties by northern spotted owls and barred owls.
Project description:As the barred owl (Strix varia; Aves: Strigiformes: Strigidae) expands throughout western North America, hybridization between barred and spotted owls (Strix varia and S. occidentalis, respectively), if abundant, may lead to genetic swamping of the endangered spotted owl. We analyzed low-coverage, whole-genome sequence data from fifty-one barred and spotted owls to investigate recent introgression between these two species. Although we obtained genomic confirmation that these species can and do hybridize and backcross, we found no evidence of widespread introgression. Plumage characteristics of western S. varia that suggested admixture with S. occidentalis appear unrelated to S. occidentalis ancestry and may instead reflect local selection.
Project description:We report here the assembly of a northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) genome. We generated Illumina paired-end sequence data at 90× coverage using nine libraries with insert lengths ranging from ?250 to 9,600?nt and read lengths from 100 to 375?nt. The genome assembly is comprised of 8,108 scaffolds totaling 1.26 × 109 nt in length with an N50 length of 3.98 × 106 nt. We calculated the genome-wide fixation index (FST) of S. o. caurina with the closely related barred owl (Strix varia) as 0.819. We examined 19 genes that encode proteins with light-dependent functions in our genome assembly as well as in that of the barn owl (Tyto alba). We present genomic evidence for loss of three of these in S. o. caurina and four in T. alba. We suggest that most light-associated gene functions have been maintained in owls and their loss has not proceeded to the same extent as in other dim-light-adapted vertebrates.
Project description:Quantifying spatial and temporal variability in population trends is a critical aspect of successful management of imperiled species. We evaluated territory occupancy dynamics of northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina), California, USA, 1990-2014. The study area possessed two unique aspects. First, timber management has occurred for over 100 years, resulting in dramatically different forest successional and structural conditions compared to other areas. Second, the barred owl (Strix varia), an exotic congener known to exert significant negative effects on spotted owls, has not colonized the study area. We used a Bayesian dynamic multistate model to evaluate if territory occupancy of reproductive spotted owls has declined as in other study areas. The state-space approach for dynamic multistate modeling imputes the number of territories for each nesting state and allows for the estimation of longer-term trends in occupied or reproductive territories from longitudinal studies. The multistate approach accounts for different detection probabilities by nesting state (to account for either inherent differences in detection or for the use of different survey methods for different occupancy states) and reduces bias in state assignment. Estimated linear trends in the number of reproductive territories suggested an average loss of approximately one half territory per year (-0.55, 90% CRI: -0.76, -0.33), in one management block and a loss of 0.15 per year (-0.15, 90% CRI: -0.24, -0.07), in another management block during the 25 year observation period. Estimated trends in the third management block were also negative, but substantial uncertainty existed in the estimate (-0.09, 90% CRI: -0.35, 0.17). Our results indicate that the number of territories occupied by northern spotted owl pairs remained relatively constant over a 25 year period (-0.07, 90% CRI: -0.20, 0.05; -0.01, 90% CRI: -0.19, 0.16; -0.16, 90% CRI: -0.40, 0.06). However, we cannot exclude small-to-moderate declines or increases in paired territory numbers due to uncertainty in our estimates. Collectively, we conclude spotted owl pair populations on this landscape managed for commercial timber production appear to be more stable and do not show sharp year-over-year declines seen in both managed and unmanaged landscapes with substantial barred owl colonization and persistence. Continued monitoring of reproductive territories can determine whether recent declines continue or whether trends reverse as they have on four previous occasions. Experimental investigations to evaluate changes to spotted owl occupancy dynamics when barred owl populations are reduced or removed entirely can confirm the generality of this conclusion.
Project description:We report here the successful assembly of the complete mitochondrial genomes of the northern spotted owl (<i>Strix occidentalis caurina</i>) and the barred owl (<i>S. varia</i>). We utilized sequence data from two sequencing methodologies, Illumina paired-end sequence data with insert lengths ranging from approximately 250 nucleotides (nt) to 9,600 nt and read lengths from 100-375 nt and Sanger-derived sequences. We employed multiple assemblers and alignment methods to generate the final assemblies. The circular genomes of <i>S. o. caurina</i> and <i>S. varia</i> are comprised of 19,948 nt and 18,975 nt, respectively. Both code for two rRNAs, twenty-two tRNAs, and thirteen polypeptides. They both have duplicated control region sequences with complex repeat structures. We were not able to assemble the control regions solely using Illumina paired-end sequence data. By fully spanning the control regions, Sanger-derived sequences enabled accurate and complete assembly of these mitochondrial genomes. These are the first complete mitochondrial genome sequences of owls (Aves: Strigiformes) possessing duplicated control regions. We searched the nuclear genome of <i>S. o. caurina</i> for copies of mitochondrial genes and found at least nine separate stretches of nuclear copies of gene sequences originating in the mitochondrial genome (<i>Numts</i>). The <i>Numts</i> ranged from 226-19,522 nt in length and included copies of all mitochondrial genes except <i>tRNA<sup>Pro</sup></i> , <i>ND6</i>, and <i>tRNA<sup>Glu</sup></i> . <i>Strix occidentalis caurina</i> and <i>S. varia</i> exhibited an average of 10.74% (8.68% uncorrected <i>p</i>-distance) divergence across the non-tRNA mitochondrial genes.
Project description:We used multi-season occupancy analyses to model 2 fates of northern spotted owl territories in relation to habitat amount, habitat fragmentation, and the presence of barred owls in Washington State, USA, 1989-2005. Local colonization is the probability a territory unoccupied by a spotted owl in year i would be occupied in year i?+?1, and local extinction is the probability a territory that was occupied by a spotted owl in year i would be unoccupied in year i?+?1. We found a negative relationship between local extinction probability and amount of late-seral forest edge. We found a negative relationship between colonization probability and the number of late-seral forest patches (higher fragmentation), and a negative relationship between colonization probability and the amount of non-habitat within 600?m of a spotted owl territory center (Akaike weight?=?0.59). The presence of barred owls was positively related to extinction probability and negatively related to detection probability of spotted owls. The negative relationship between presence of barred owls and detectability of spotted owls indicated that spotted owls could be modifying their calling behavior in the presence of barred owls. The positive relationship between barred owl detections and local extinction probability suggests that because of competition with barred owls, spotted owls are being displaced. Published 2014. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.
Project description:Genetic differentiation among Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis) subspecies has been established in prior studies. These investigations also provided evidence for introgression and hybridization among taxa but were limited by a lack of samples from geographic regions where subspecies came into close contact. We analyzed new sets of samples from Northern Spotted Owls (NSO: S. o. caurina) and California Spotted Owls (CSO: S. o. occidentalis) in northern California using mitochondrial DNA sequences (mtDNA) and 10 nuclear microsatellite loci to obtain a clearer depiction of genetic differentiation and hybridization in the region. Our analyses revealed that a NSO population close to the northern edge of the CSO range in northern California (the NSO Contact Zone population) is highly differentiated relative to other NSO populations throughout the remainder of their range. Phylogenetic analyses identified a unique lineage of mtDNA in the NSO Contact Zone, and Bayesian clustering analyses of the microsatellite data identified the Contact Zone as a third distinct population that is differentiated from CSO and NSO found in the remainder of the subspecies' range. Hybridization between NSO and CSO was readily detected in the NSO Contact Zone, with over 50% of individuals showing evidence of hybrid ancestry. Hybridization was also identified among 14% of CSO samples, which were dispersed across the subspecies' range in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The asymmetry of hybridization suggested that the hybrid zone may be dynamic and moving. Although evidence of hybridization existed, we identified no F1 generation hybrid individuals. We instead found evidence for F2 or backcrossed individuals among our samples. The absence of F1 hybrids may indicate that (1) our 10 microsatellites were unable to distinguish hybrid types, (2) primary interactions between subspecies are occurring elsewhere on the landscape, or (3) dispersal between the subspecies' ranges is reduced relative to historical levels, potentially as a consequence of recent regional fires.
Project description:The northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) is a federally-threatened subspecies in the United States associated with late-successional forests. In mesic forests it nests primarily in tree cavities, but also uses various types of external platform nests in drier forests. We describe 1717 northern spotted owl nests in 16 different tree species in five study areas in Washington and Oregon in the Pacific Northwest, USA. The vast majority of nests (87%) were in Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) trees, except on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington, where nests were about equally abundant in Douglas-fir, western red cedar (Thuja plicata), and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) trees. Distribution of nests was 57.9% in top cavities of trees with broken tops, 20.3% in side cavities of hollow tree trunks, and 21.8% on external platforms of trees. Platforms were most common in the two driest study areas in the Eastern Cascades Physiographic Province, Washington (89% of nests), and the Klamath Province, Oregon (32%). The vast majority (89%) of nests were in trees with intact or declining crowns. Nests in dead trees were most common on the Olympic Peninsula. Nest trees with top and side cavities were larger and much more prevalent in study areas where annual precipitation was highest (Olympic Peninsula, Oregon Coast Range). Large nest cavities and platforms used by northern spotted owls occur almost exclusively in old forest. Managing for the retention of such forests and for their replacement is a significant challenge for land managers, especially in the face of climate change and an increasing human population, but will likely be required for the persistence of viable populations of northern spotted owls.