North American Crane Working Group


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Petersen, Jessica L., Bischof, Richard, and Szalanski, Allen L. Population genetics of midcontinent sandhill cranes. In: Ellis, David H., ed., Proceedings of the Eighth North American Crane Workshop, 11–14 January 2000, Albuquerque, New Mexico (Seattle, Wash: North American Crane Working Group, 2001), p. 219.


Reproduced by permission of the North American Crane Working Group (NACWG).


The Midcontinent Sandhill Crane Population is comprised of 3 subspecies, lesser (Grus canadensis canadensis), Canadian (G. c. rowani), and greater (G. c. tabida) sandhill cranes. In conjunction with the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, we studied the extent of genetic variation between and within each race of the Midcontinent Sandhill Crane Population. DNA was extracted from 150 feather and dried blood samples collected from 1995-99 from sandhill cranes in the Platte River Valley, central Nebraska. Parsimony and maximwn likelihood analysis of the mtDNA D-loop sequences (ca 675 bp amplified using PCR) from 29 sandhill cranes and 3 other species revealed 2 distinct clades within G. canadensis. Using known morphological data, these 2 clades represent G. c. canadensis and G. c. tab ida. Birds measured as G. c. rowani proved indistinguishable from either canadensis or tabida and are therefore included in both clades. Genetic divergence was 6.6% to 9.4% between the 2 subspecies: 0.1% to 6.0% within G. c. canadensis and 0.1% to 6.1% within G. c. tabida. From the sequence data, PCR-RFLP analysis was conducted on all 150 sandhill cranes using 5 restriction enzymes. PCR-RFLP revealed 16 haplotypes but was still able to differentiate only 2 subspecies. Based on the levels of mtDNA D-Ioop variation observed, this marker will be useful for genetic monitoring of these subspecies. In addition, the ability to use feather samples for genetic analysis will facilitate monitoring of cranes in the wild and make museum specimens useful as well.