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Crane Genetics



The following is a discussion of the recent findings regarding the subspecies of Sandhill Cranes.

George Archibald:

Kenís work showed two highly distinct groups of Sandhills Ė the Lessers and the Others. Within the Others there are distinct subpopulations that merge

(cline) from one to the next over space, that is, birds at the extremities of the range are quite different while those where the populations meet which are quite similar.

Thatís the way nature works.  If a population becomes geographically isolated, and that apparently is what happened with Sandhills during the Ice Age, they sometimes rapidly diverge to that point that if they subsequently meet, interbreeding is impossible.  The later is the general definition of a species.  Gary Krapu, who has done so much work on Sandhill genetics, suggests that the Lessers were isolated in the Berring Sea area during the last glaciations, and subsequently reconnected with the Others after the ice disappeared.  Lessers might have been nonmigratory during the Ice Age. That area was quite mild.

Gary Ivey:

 Here is the latest from Ken Jones on our Ridgefield/Sauvie Island cranes. He is saying they are classified as greaters genetically. There are still some striking morphological differences in these birds and they should be managed as a separate population in the Pacific Flyway.

5621    Female with Tabida mtDNA
6343    Female with Tabida mtDNA
8725    Male with Tabida mtDNA
8726    Male with Tabida mtDNA
8737    Female with Tabida mtDNA
8746    Male with Tabida mtDNA
8824    Male with Tabida mtDNA
8827    Female with Tabida mtDNA

Gary Ivey

Ken is saying that the other subspecies are subpopulations of greaters. I donít believe he has published his work yet. Regardless of the genetic results, Mississippi, Florida, and Cuban sandhill cranes will retain their status as T&E species, and different populations will have different levels of conservation concern. The Flyways already recognize separate populations of greaters; however, the Canadian subspecies has never been formally acknowledged in the Pacific Flyway and I am recommending that they be identified as a Pacific Coast Population and receive some additional conservation attention.

I spoke with Myke Chutter of BC Wildlife and he is going to use our data on nesting locations to set a buffer for protection of known nesting sites. Cranes are on BCís Blue List of species of conservation concern.





PTT Study Lower Colorado Queen Charlottes Conboy Lake NWR Central Valley Subspecies Whooping Cranes


The West Coast Crane Working Group is a regional technical workgroup of the North American Crane Working Group (NACWG). The NACWG is a member of the Crane Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of The World Conservation Union (IUCN) based in Gland, Switzerland. 


The WCCWG receives support from The Paul L King Charitable Foundation, The Foley/Frischkorn Wildlife and Conservation Fund, and Chevron Research and Technology Company and other appreciated supporters.

The WCCWG supports the listed research projects relating to Sandhill cranes of the Pacific Flyway


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