Speaker Series: Genetics and the Future of the Golden-cheeked Warbler

Dr. Giri Athrey presents the Past and Present of Golden-cheeked Warbler Populations: What Genetics Tells Us About Recovery
Doors open 6:30 pm, Program begins 7:00 pm
Free to the public

Texas is a haven for birds and bird-lovers alike. The Golden-cheeked Warbler is a small, endangered neotropical migrant immediately identifiable with the Edwards plateau region of Texas. This much beleaguered species has been at the center of controversy for years – in a tug-of-war between birder-conservationists on the one side, and some land owners and private interest groups on the other. Following intensive management of habitat and protection status, this species appears to have recovered, resulting in increased calls for its de-listing from the Endangered Species list. But has this species truly recovered?

Dr. Athrey will present evidence from genetic data showing that damage done to Golden-cheeked Warbler populations far exceeded the visible, demographic level impacts (total count of birds). Genetic data can be difficult to interpret in the absence of context or historical reference, and even well conducted studies can be open to interpretation. Hence, in work done by Dr. Athrey and colleagues, genetic data spread across 100 years of the same Golden-cheeked Warbler populations was used to provide a historical context for recent  populations. They documented one of the worst declines in metrics of genetic diversity and inter-population movement (gene flow) for any species using this approach. If anything, their study emphasizes the importance of long-term genetic monitoring. Their study also cautions against the hazards of basing management and delisting decisions on shorter-term demographic recovery.

About Dr. Giri Athrey
Dr. Giri Athrey, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor of Avian Genetics and Functional Genomics at Texas A&M University, College Station. He is a member of the Department of Poultry Science, and the Faculty of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. His broad interests are in avian health, evolution and conservation. His past (and in a limited way, present) work focused on songbird population ecology and genetics—working on the Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. His research program focuses on the genetics of avian diseases, avian immune system interactions and comparative genomics, using the chicken as a model. He is part of the Heath Hen Advisory Group, where he is working on the genetics of North American grouse species, and is also leading the assembly of the Whooping Crane genome. Away from work he enjoys watching birds, spending time with his family and digging for fossils with his six year old son.