Yesterday marked a small but important milestone for my dissertation: I collected the sample I need to sequence the whole genome of my study organism, the Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus)!
Northern Bobwhite are among the most popular game species in the U.S., and at one time were common throughout pine savannas of the southeast. Decades of population decline have made these birds harder to come by, particularly in Louisiana, but they are still a popular game species. In low density populations like we have here in LA, the best way to get bobwhite is to used trained hunting dogs, so I teamed up with state biologists from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries who generously volunteered to take me out hunting with their dogs and donate the birds to the LSUMNS.
In birds, females are the heterogametic sex (meaning they have two different sex chromosomes), so for the purposes of generating a high quality reference genome, I wanted a female bobwhite to capture the complete genetic diversity of the species. We first went out to Sandy Hollow Wildlife Management Area - one of the better bobwhite hunting spots southeast LA - on a cold, windy day in November, and despite a few hours best effort, we only got one male bobwhite. No females to be found.
Yesterday morning we got up early and headed back to Sandy Hollow for another uncharacteristically cold and windy day (which the birds don't like). After three unsuccessful hours, my labmate and I packed it up and started back to Baton Rouge. We had only made it 15 minutes when we got the call: the dogs flushed a covey, and the hunters brought back two hens and three males - a great find for Sandy Hollow! We turned around and headed back. For our purposes, we kept the two hens and one of the males and let the hunters keep the other two birds. We now have a small series of two males and two females from Sandy Hollow WMA, the first bobwhite tissues from Tangipahoa Parish and the 12th-15th bobwhite tissues from LA in the LSUMNS collection.
I packed up the samples and sent them off for sequencing this morning - in a month or two I should have a high-quality reference genome for Northern Bobwhite! This genome will be an invaluable resource for my research into the genomics underlying bobwhite phenotypic diversity across the US and Mexico.
A huge thank you to Cody Cedotal from LDWF who helped me coordinate this, the hunters who donated their time and birds to this project, and my labmate Oscar Johnson for helping me in the field.