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Concept: Partridge


This report describes the results of radiological, histological and molecular examination of three farm-reared red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa) affected by candidiasis.

Concepts: Candidiasis, Phasianidae, Partridge, Alectoris, Red-legged Partridge


Galliform birds (relatives of the chicken and turkey) have attracted substantial attention due to their importance to society and value as model systems. This makes understanding the evolutionary history of Galliformes, especially the species-rich family Phasianidae, particularly interesting and important for comparative studies in this group. Previous studies have differed in their conclusions regarding galliform phylogeny. Some of these studies have suggested that specific clades within this order underwent rapid radiations, potentially leading to the observed difficulty in resolving their phylogenetic relationships. Here we presented analyses of six nuclear intron sequences and two mitochondrial regions, an amount of sequence data larger than many previous studies, and expanded taxon sampling by collecting data from 88 galliform species and four anseriform outgroups. Our results corroborated recent studies describing relationships among the major families, and provided further evidence that the traditional division of the largest family, the Phasianidae into two major groups (“pheasants” and “partridges”) is not valid. Within the Phasianidae, relationships among many genera have varied among studies and there has been little consensus for the placement of many taxa. Using this large dataset, with substantial sampling within the Phasianidae, we obtained strong bootstrap support to confirm some previously hypothesized relationships and we were able to exclude others. In addition, we added the first nuclear sequence data for the partridge and quail genera Ammoperdix, Caloperdix, Excalfactoria, and Margaroperdix, placing these taxa in the galliform tree of life with confidence. Despite the novel insights obtained by combining increased sampling of taxa and loci, our results suggest that additional data collection will be necessary to solve the remaining uncertainties.

Concepts: Bird, Phylogenetic nomenclature, Phylogenetic tree, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Phasianidae, Galliformes, Partridge


The large-scale use of neonicotinoid insecticides has raised growing concerns about their potential adverse effects on farmland birds, and more generally on biodiversity. Imidacloprid, the first neonicotinoid commercialized, has been identified as posing a risk for seed-eating birds when it is used as seed treatment of some crops since the consumption of a few dressed seeds could cause mortality. But evidence of direct effects in the field is lacking. Here, we reviewed the 103 wildlife mortality incidents reported by the French SAGIR Network from 1995 to 2014, for which toxicological analyses detected imidacloprid residues. One hundred and one incidents totalling at least 734 dead animals were consistent with an agricultural use as seed treatment. Grey partridges (Perdix perdix) and “pigeons” (Columba palumbus, Columba livia and Columba oenas) were the main species found. More than 70% of incidents occurred during autumn cereal sowings. Furthermore, since there is no biomarker for diagnosing neonicotinoid poisonings, we developed a diagnostic approach to estimate the degree of certainty that these mortalities were due to imidacloprid poisoning. By this way, the probability that mortality was due to poisoning by imidacloprid-treated seeds was ranked as at least “likely” in 70% of incidents. As a result, this work provides clear evidence to risk managers that lethal effects due to the consumption by birds of imidacloprid-treated seeds regularly occur in the field. This in turn raises the question of the effectiveness of the two main factors (seed burying and imidacloprid-treated seeds avoidance) that are supposed to make the risk to birds negligible. Risk factors and the relevance of mitigation measures are discussed.

Concepts: Agriculture, Bird, Imidacloprid, Columbidae, Rock Pigeon, Partridge, Grey Partridge, Columba


Present and future challenges for wild partridge populations include the resistance against possible disease transmission after restocking with captive-reared individuals, and the need to cope with the stress prompted by new dynamic and challenging scenarios. Selection of individuals with the best immune ability may be a good strategy to improve general immunity, and hence adaptation to stress. In this study, non-infectious challenges with phytohemagglutinin (PHA) and sheep red blood cells allowed the classification of red-legged partridges (Alectoris rufa) according to their overall immune responses (IR). Skin from the area of injection of PHA and spleen, both from animals showing extreme high and low IR, were selected to investigate the transcriptional profiles underlying the different ability to cope with pathogens and external aggressions. RNA-seq yielded 97 million raw reads from eight sequencing libraries and approximately 84% of the processed reads were mapped to the reference chicken genome. Differential expression analysis identified 1488 up- and 107 down-regulated loci in individuals with high IR versus low IR. Partridges displaying higher innate IR show an enhanced activation of host defence gene pathways complemented with a tightly controlled desensitization that facilitates the return to cellular homeostasis. These findings indicate that the immune system ability to respond to aggressions (either diseases or stress produced by environmental changes) involves extensive transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulations, and expand our understanding on the molecular mechanisms of the avian immune system, opening the possibility of improving disease resistance or robustness using genome assisted selection (GAS) approaches for increased IR in partridges by using genes such as AVN or BF2 as markers. This study provides the first transcriptome sequencing data of the Alectoris genus, a resource for molecular ecology that enables integration of genomic tools in further studies.

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Blood, Innate immune system, Immunology, Humoral immunity, Immunity, Partridge


Little is known about the magnitude of the effects of lead shot ingestion alone or combined with poisons (e.g., in bait or seeds/granules containing pesticides) on population size, growth, and extinction of non-waterbird avian species that ingest these substances. We used population models to create example scenarios demonstrating how changes in these parameters might affect three susceptible species: grey partridge (Perdix perdix), common buzzard (Buteo buteo), and red kite (Milvus milvus). We added or subtracted estimates of mortality due to lead shot ingestion (4-16% of mortality, depending on species) and poisons (4-46% of mortality) reported in the UK or France to observed mortality of studied populations after models were calibrated to observed population trends. Observed trends were decreasing for partridge (in continental Europe), stable for buzzard (in Germany), and increasing for red kite (in Wales). Although lead shot ingestion and poison at modeled levels did not change the trend direction for the three species, they reduced population size and slowed population growth. Lead shot ingestion at modeled rates reduced population size of partridges by 10%, and when combined with bait and pesticide poisons, by 18%. For buzzards, decrease in mean population size by lead shot and poisons combined was much smaller (≤ 1%). The red kite population has been recovering; however, modeled lead shot ingestion reduced its annual growth rate from 6.5% to 4%, slowing recovery. If mortality from poisoned baits could be removed, the kite population could potentially increase at a rapid annual rate of 12%. The effects are somewhat higher if ingestion of these substances additionally causes sublethal reproductive impairment. These results have uncertainty but suggest that declining or recovering populations are most sensitive to lead shot or poison ingestion, and removal of poisoned baits can have a positive impact on recovering raptor populations that frequently feed on carrion.

Concepts: Partridge, Common Buzzard, Red Kite


Animal coloration is key in natural and sexual selection, playing significant roles in intra- and interspecific communication because of its linkage to individual behaviour, genetics and physiology. Simple animal traits such as the area or the colour intensity of homogeneous patches have been profusely studied. More complex patterns are widespread in nature, but they escape our understanding because their variation is difficult to capture effectively by standard, simple measures. Here, we used fractal geometry to quantify inter-individual variation in the expression of a complex plumage trait, the heterogeneous black bib of the red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa). We show that a higher bib fractal dimension (FD) predicted better individual body condition, as well as immune responsiveness, which is condition-dependent in our study species. Moreover, when food intake was experimentally reduced during moult as a means to reduce body condition, the bib’s FD significantly decreased. Fractal geometry therefore provides new opportunities for the study of complex animal colour patterns and their roles in animal communication.

Concepts: Mathematics, Chaos theory, Animal, Bird, Fractal, Partridge, Alectoris, Red-legged Partridge


The rock partridge, Alectoris graeca, is a polytypic species declining in Italy mostly due to anthropogenic causes, including the massive releases of the closely related allochthonous chukar partridge Alectoris chukar which produced the formation of hybrids. Molecular approaches are fundamental for the identification of evolutionary units in the perspective of conservation and management, and to correctly select individuals to be used in restocking campaigns. We analyzed a Cytochrome oxidase I (COI) fragment of contemporary and historical A. graeca and A. chukar samples, using duplicated analyses to confirm results and nuclear DNA microsatellites to exclude possible sample cross-contamination. In two contemporary specimens of A. graeca, collected from an anthropogenic hybrid zone, we found evidence of the presence of mtDNA heteroplasmy possibly associated to paternal leakage and suggesting hybridization with captive-bred exotic A. chukar. These results underline significant limitations in the reliability of mtDNA barcoding-based species identification and could have relevant evolutionary and ecological implications that should be accounted for when interpreting data aimed to support conservation actions.

Concepts: DNA, Mitochondrion, Mitochondrial DNA, Birds of Pakistan, Nuclear DNA, Partridge, Alectoris, Rock Partridge


Flight feathers have evolved under selective pressures to be sufficiently light and strong enough to cope with the stresses of flight. The feather shaft (rachis) must resist these stresses and is fundamental to this mode of locomotion. Relatively little work has been done on rachis morphology, especially from a mechanical perspective and never at the nanoscale. Nano-indentation is a cornerstone technique in materials testing. Here we use this technique to make use of differentially oriented fibres and their resulting mechanical anisotropy. The rachis is established as a multi-layered fibrous composite material with varying laminar properties in three feathers of birds with markedly different flight styles; the Mute Swan (Cygnus olor), the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and the partridge (Perdix perdix). These birds were chosen not just because they are from different clades and have different flight styles, but because they have feathers large enough to gain meaningful results from nano-indentation. Results from our initial datasets indicate that the proportions and orientation of the laminae are not fixed and may vary either in order to cope with the stresses of flight particular to the bird or with phylogenetic lineage.

Concepts: Bird, White-tailed Eagle, Feather, Flight feather, Swan, Bald Eagle, Eagle, Partridge


Pesticide coated seeds are commonly used in agriculture, and may be an important source of food for some birds in times of scarcity, as well as a route of pesticide ingestion. We tested the lethal and sub-lethal effects of treated seed ingestion by the red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa), a game bird of high socio-economic value in Spain. One year-old partridges (n = 42 pairs) were fed for 10 days in spring (prior to breeding) with wheat treated with difenoconazole (fungicide), thiram (fungicide) or imidacloprid (insecticide), using two doses for each pesticide (the one recommended, and its double to represent potential cases of abuse of pesticides). We investigated the direct and indirect effects on the body condition, physiology, immunology, coloration and subsequent reproduction of exposed partridges. For the latter, eggs were collected, measured and incubated and the growth and survival of chicks were monitored. Thiram and imidacloprid at high exposure doses produced mortalities of 41.6 and 58.3 %, respectively. The first death was observed at day 3 for imidacloprid and at day 7 for thiram. Both doses of the three pesticides caused sublethal effects, such as altered biochemical parameters, oxidative stress and reduced carotenoid-based coloration. The high exposure doses of imidacloprid and thiram also produced a decrease in cellular immune response measured by the phytohemagglutinin test in males. Bearing in mind the limitation of the small number of surviving pairs in some treatments, we found that the three pesticides reduced the size of eggs and imidacloprid and difenoconazole also reduced the fertilization rate. In addition, both thiram and imidacloprid reduced chick survival. These experiments highlight that the toxicity of pesticide-treated seeds is a factor to consider in the decline of birds in agricultural environments.

Concepts: Immune system, Humoral immunity, Bird, Insecticide, Cell-mediated immunity, Partridge, Alectoris, Red-legged Partridge


Wild birds differ in size according to their age and sex, adult birds being larger than juveniles. In the galliforms, males are larger than females, in contrast to some groups, such as the raptors, in which the females are larger. Size generally influences the rank hierarchy within a group of birds, although the age, sex, temperament and behaviour of an individual may override its size related rank order. The scaled size of birds according to age and sex affects their physiology and behaviour. Precise details of body-size differences by age and sex are poorly known in most partridge species. We measured 13,814 wild partridges in a homogenous population over 14 years of study to evaluate size differences within a uniform habitat and population management regime. We show that wild Red-legged Partridges have scaled mass, and body- and wing-lengths consistent with age/sex classes. Power functions between mass and body-length (as a proxy for walking efficiency), and between mass and wing-length (for flight efficiency) differ between juvenile females and males, and adult females and males. We discuss these findings and their physiological, behavioural and ecological implications.

Concepts: Biology, Partridge