NFWF Awards Third Grant to BRI for
Grasslands Restoration Work
T he National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) has awarded a third six-figure grant to the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) for a grassland enhancement project in Marfa and Marathon. The funds will be matched dollar for dollar by private sources including funds from landowners and dollars raised by BRI, doubling the impact of the grant. The recently approved $250,000 grant was preceded by two similar grants in 2018 and 2019. 

This year’s project will continue brush management activities in the Marfa and Marathon grasslands of West Texas to improve grassland health and provide habitat for pronghorn and migratory grassland birds. Brush management will be conducted on 5,000 acres of brush-invaded grassland. Once the affected areas are treated, BRI researchers will monitor response to treatments and develop region-specific science-driven management recommendations.

“Our work to restore grasslands in the Marfa Plateau and Marathon Basin is critical for improving habitats for pronghorn, wintering grassland birds, and other grassland-dependent species,” said Dr. Louis Harveson, who is the Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., BRI Endowed Director and Regents’ Professor of Wildlife Management at Sul Ross State University. “We are grateful that NFWF and their industry partners have made a significant commitment to the conservation of the borderlands region, and we are also thankful to the private landowners who are facilitating this important research.”

Dixon Water Foundation Awards Grant to BRI for Songbird Conservation Program
T hanks to the Dixon Water Foundation, the Borderlands Research Institute will enhance a songbird conservation program that will connect landowners, birders and the public through community engagement activities. The $25,000 grant will fund field trips focused on birds and implement a citizen science project that will monitor bird populations on private ranches. 

“The Dixon Water Foundation is supporting this new effort because birds provide a great indicator of ecological health of the land and waterways of the Chihuahuan Desert,” said Dixon Water Foundation President & CEO Robert J. Potts. “Birds are also an excellent way to engage and educate the public on the importance of well-managed watersheds. Birds provide a visible nexus between land, water and people.”

The goal of the Songbird Conservation Program is to advance the awareness, appreciation, and conservation of birds in West Texas. The grant will allow BRI to implement a number of new initiatives to engage citizens in songbird conservation. Those activities could include bird watching excursions on private ranches, bird photography workshops and educational seminars. In addition, a citizen science project will be developed that will document bird populations on private ranches through long-term monitoring efforts.
 Big Bend Seminar Series on Energy Development Rebooted for Fall 2020
R esidents of West Texas are invited to attend a free series of seminars on energy development in the Big Bend later this year. The seminar series began in January 2020, but three of the seminars were cancelled—one due to weather and the others to the COVID-19 pandemic. The series is being rebooted for the fall with new topics and speakers. The seminar series is designed to engage a broad constituency of Big Bend community members to better inform them on recent energy projections, potential impacts on communities and conservation values, and to develop creative strategies to conserve the unique resources and communities of the region.

There are three seminars scheduled in fall 2020, and assuming COVID-19 is on the wane by then, the seminars will be held at the Espino Conference Center at Sul Ross State University in Alpine from 6:30 – 7:30 pm.

“We are committed to involving the entire West Texas community in the conversations that are underway and we hope everyone who is interested in the future of the Big Bend region will participate in these seminars,” said Billy Tarrant, Associate Director for Stewardship Services at BRI, who is coordinating the engagement activities associated with the Respect Big Bend Coalition. “While we are hoping we can conduct these meetings in person, community safety remains our top priority, and if necessary, we’ll pivot to a webinar format. We hope to engage as many stakeholders as we can in this process.”

FIND OUT MOR E about the lineup of speakers and seminar dates.
Project Spotlight: Parasite Loads in Desert Quail
by Rachel Bittner and Dr. Ryan Luna

T he Trans-Pecos region of Texas has four species of quail: the scaled quail, Gambel’s quail, Montezuma (Mearns) quail, and northern bobwhite. The northern bobwhite is primarily found east of the Pecos River, whereas the other three species of quail are found in the desert mountains, along the Rio Grande, and throughout the Trans-Pecos, for the Montezuma quail, Gambel’s quail, and scaled quail, respectively.

Quail are experiencing population declines across much of their range, and anthropogenic influences such as habitat loss and fragmentation are thought to be some of the factors. Another possible factor influencing quail population declines are parasites. Currently, little research regarding parasites has been conducted in the Trans-Pecos; however, it is thought that parasites could be influencing range, health, reproduction, and survival of scaled quail, Gambel’s quail, and Montezuma quail in the region.

Parasites of concern in the Trans-Pecos include two helminths, specifically Oxyspirura petrowi (eyeworms) and Aulonocephalus pennula (cecal worms). When present in quail, the eyeworm resides underneath the eyelids, nictitating membrane, and in the orbital cavity and other ocular tissues of an infected host. In an infected host, cecal worms are found primarily in the ceca, two pouches that connect at the ileocecal junction, where the small and large intestines join.

With this project we are collecting scaled quail—and, opportunistically, Gambel’s quail and Montezuma quail—from across the Trans-Pecos region to determine parasite loads in each of these three species. We have collected over 650 scaled quail, eight Gambel’s quail, and three Montezuma quail thus far. Eyeworm and cecal worm loads are also being analyzed with respect to the precipitation gradient in the region and whether or not properties provide supplemental feed.

Understanding how parasite loads are impacting quail in the Trans-Pecos will allow managers to identify factors that could be influencing quail declines and might lead to innovative ways to bolster current populations.
Student Spotlight: Rachel Bittner
C hildhood visits to Texas state parks led Rachel Bittner to choose an education and a career path involving wildlife.
“I don’t think I would have chosen a natural resource management degree path if I hadn’t had so much experience outdoors in state parks,” she said. “When I was a little girl, I knew that I wanted to protect the land and animals and the wild things and wild places, but I didn't really know how. I just knew that was what I was meant to do.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech, and worked as a student research technician for three PhD students who were studying seahorses, elk and axis deer. Her undergraduate research project focused on using species distribution models to predict suitable habitat for seagrass, using the Texas Gulf Coast as a case study.
Volunteering on a mule deer project introduced her to Sul Ross State University and the Borderlands Research Institute. When it came time to make a decision on where to apply for graduate school, it was a no-brainer.
“I have loved the Borderlands Research Institute experience,” she said. “The class sizes are small and you can get one-on-one learning. If you're stuck on something the professors are always available to help.”
Fun Fact: Parasites!
B oth eyeworms and cecal worms have an indirect life cycle. This means they require both an intermediate host, such as grasshoppers, and a definitive host, such as quail, to complete their life cycle.

Pictured here are cecal worms collected from a scaled quail's intestines as part of our study.
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Borderlands Research Institute | 432.837.8225 | [email protected]
P.O. Box C-21, SRSU, Alpine, Texas 79832