Research group at UNT works to conserve quail species

Research group at UNT works to conserve quail species

Research group at UNT works to conserve quail species
February 02
19:19 2016

Victoria Monteros | Staff Writer

@ToriLaSuper

Quails don’t flit through most minds on a day-to-day basis, but one group is hoping to spread awareness and information about the bird, as well as work to conserve the species.

Dr. Kelly Reyna is the Executive Director of UNT Quail, a group focusing on reversing the quail decline by identifying and eliminating quail threats, creating habitats and much more. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

Dr. Kelly Reyna is the executive director of UNT Quail, a group focusing on reversing the quail decline by identifying and eliminating quail threats, creating habitats and much more. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

“It’s really a species of conservation need,” UNT Quail executive director Kelly Reyna said. “I grew up hunting and fishing with my dad, so I was always in the woods, so that gave me the appreciation for wildlife.”

UNT Quail has been contributing to new curriculum at UNT and reaching out to the surrounding community since its founding in 2012. Their range of work extends over Northeast Texas and includes the North Texas Quail Corridor, where they work on quail research with over 150 landowners on over two million acres of land.

UNT Quail aims conservation efforts toward the bobwhite quail, which has declined 80 percent in population since 1967.

Before joining the program, Ph.D. student and UNT Quail member Jeff Whitt studied mammalogy, focusing on mammals rather than birds. He said he decided to join the quail group after a chance encounter with Reyna.

“He basically sold me out [on the program],” Whitt said. “I thought I could switch over to birds easily.”

UNT Quail Executive Director Kelly Reyna observes PhD Student Jeff Whitt’s research in the lab. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

UNT Quail executive director Kelly Reyna observes doctoral student Jeff Whitt’s research in the lab. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

Whitt is currently conducting a population survey of Montague and Clay counties. Researchers go to certain locations to listen for quail and record how many they hear. They combine this data with satellite imagery of what bobwhite habitats look like from space. Whitt compares what he sees in space to where he knows the bobwhites actually are.

Whitt is working to build a habitat model applicable to most of the North Texas Quail corridor. The model would make it possible to start predicting where the bobwhite quails are, as well as deduce why certain areas lack their presence.

PhD Student Jeff Whitt works on suitable habitat research in the lab by separating and classifying bug samples into their respective orders. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

PhD Student Jeff Whitt works on suitable habitat research in the lab by separating and classifying bug samples into their respective orders. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

UNT Quail is also conducting a study on the relationship between cattle and quail. Since cattle ranchers own much of the land they work on, there is competition for grass, which serves as protection for quails. The group is working with landowners to manipulate the grass or have the cattle eat the grass at times when the quails don’t need it.

Bobwhites play a major role in some economies, but they are also very important to the ecosystem. Because they don’t migrate, they are an indicator species of the health of grasslands.

“Healthy grasslands absorb water, which cleans the water and recharges aquifers,” Renya said. “Grasslands, which bobwhites are an indicator species of, contribute to human health.”

One of their biggest research projects is a study of a relatively new but common insecticide known as neonicotinoids and their impact on quails. Since the chemical is often sprayed on seeds or even on the bobwhites, there’s a high risk of neonicotinoid exposure.

Exposure to neonicotinoids can cause any number of deformities. UNT Quail has worked with or seen one-eyed quails, quails with one leg, hearts too small and other organ abnormalities.

The UNT Quail group is proud to show off their decked out vehicles outside the Life Science Complex. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

The UNT Quail group is proud to show off their decked-out vehicles outside the Life Science Complex. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

Although UNT Quail does much of their research outdoors, indoor lab work plays an important role as well. Professional science student and UNT Quail lab tech Abby Holovach is tasked with coming up with enrichment activities for the birds.

“They like to dust-bathe, so we’ll put sand on their little mats in their cages and they’ll do it the wild, naturally in the dirt,” Holovach said. “It’s pretty fun taking care of them. They have different personalities.”

UNT Quail is currently recruiting two graduate students and two physiology students to work on projects. They are always taking graduate and undergraduate volunteers to contribute to both field and lab work.

UNT Quail can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Featured Image: Graduate students Abby Holovach, left, and Ph.D. student Jeff Whitt, center, pose with executive director of UNT Quail Dr. Kelly Reyna. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

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