Behavioral ecology and conservation of a neotropical wood-quail, Odontophorus leucolaemus

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Colin R. Hughes - Committee Chair

Second Committee Member

William A. Searcy - Committee Member


This dissertation is the first study of the black-breasted wood-quail, Odontophorus leucolaemus, a Neotropical cloud forest endemic. Deforestation has resulted in a reduction in species-wide population size and isolation of the remaining populations in Costa Rica. Wood-quail are abundant in the Monteverde region; mean density is one covey per 3.3 ha and does not differ between fragmented and continuous forest. Most wood-quail live in coveys of three or more adults and mean covey size is four adults (range 2--9). Coveys form, in part, by the retention of offspring on the natal territory and are stable associations that persist year-round, a group structure that is very different from what is seen in the North American quails. Larger groups produce significantly more juveniles than smaller groups in this population. Some anecdotal evidence suggests the wood-quails are cooperative breeders, a first among the Galliformes. Analysis of relatedness, determined by microsatellite DNA markers, revealed that groups are composed of related individuals providing support for the hypothesized family-based structure of wood-quail populations. Nevertheless, groups also contain unrelated same-sex individuals, suggesting that group structure is more complex than previously thought and/or the mating system is not limited to monogamy. Spatial genetic structure indicates that males tend to disperse very short distances from the natal territory (three coveys or less), while females disperse farther and perhaps more often than males. Wood-quail are highly vocal; pairs and coveys produce antiphonal duets and choruses that function in territory advertisement and defense. I report the first evidence that predators eavesdrop on these choruses. The use of playbacks and molecular tools were essential for obtaining data on population size, group structure, and dispersal since wood-quail are very difficult to observe. Although this cloud forest endemic appears to have fairly wide habitat tolerances, population persistence may depend on sufficient connections among remaining forested areas because of constraints to dispersal. This new information will contribute to our understanding of sociality in the New World quails and provide a base of knowledge that will serve in predicting, and hopefully alleviating, the risk of extinction to threatened Odontophorus quails.


Biology, Ecology; Biology, Zoology

Link to Full Text


Link to Full Text