Advanced genetic research is underway to save Scotland’s most famous bird from extinction.
The grouse population has declined by over 90% over the past 50 years.
And the decline continues.
In the past six years alone, the population has shrunk by a third.
Most of the remaining 700 birds in Scotland are now only found in Cairngorms.
Because the numbers are so low, researchers believe grouse are at risk of genetic suffocation.
In response, a team from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland began analyzing DNA samples as part of a project funded by the National Lottery.
dr. Alexander Ball said: “Understanding the genetic diversity of the British Grouse is essential for its long-term survival and resistance to threats.
Our research will determine whether the conservation method should focus on increasing the gene pool rather than just increasing the number.
“We will be using new technology that will increase our ability to work with degraded DNA fragments found in sources.”
The team, based in an Edinburgh Zoo lab, obtained DNA from feather stalks collected at Cairngorms.
Carolyn Robertson, Cairngorms Capercaillie Project Manager, said: “A small army of people have responded to our cry for help.
“Rangers, rangers, stalkers, rangers, environmentalists and trained volunteers carefully collected over 1,000 feathers to send to the lab. “
In addition, DNA samples have been taken in Sweden, Poland, Germany, Austria, Norway and the French Pyrenees, where numbers are also falling.
The aim is to find out the genetic differences between grouse in Scotland and elsewhere.
Caroline added, “This method of analysis has never been used before in the conservation of capercaillie.
“This will greatly help the management of these birds in the UK and could also pave the way for future conservation projects abroad.”
The researchers are also aiming to obtain DNA samples from ancient Scottish grouse for comparison with the current population.
These specimens usually come from the toe pads of historical specimens which are now kept for display.
The owners of private collections across Scotland have already been contacted.
However, anyone in possession of a complaint is asked to contribute to the investigation by sending an email to [email protected]
The bird is about the size of a turkey and is the largest member of the grouse family.
Each spring they congregate in designated areas of the pines for mating.
The men perform an unusual courtship called theatrical (Old Norse means “dance”).
This involves pulling the head up and extending the tail.
Males also make strange noises such as hissing and hissing.
These exotic little sounds of birds have led the grouse to be called the “forest horse”.