See No, Smell No, Taste No Evil – How Sage-Grouse Detect Toxic Sagebrush
There is increasing evidence that sage-grouse selectively consume individual and species of sagebrush that have the lowest concentrations of chemical defenses, or toxins. We propose that this selection requires the ability to see, smell or taste specific chemicals or groups of chemicals that vary quantitatively and qualitatively in sagebrush available throughout the winter range of sage-grouse. We are developing methods to determine if and how selected and avoided sagebrush may differ in color, smell and taste. We used ultraviolet and near infrared detectors to determine the variation in the "color" of phenolics in sagebrush. We used gas chromatography to determine the variation in the "smell" of monoterpenes in sagebrush. We are developing microscopy techniques to determine if sage-grouse possess receptors in the beak and tongue that could taste chemicals in sagebrush. Our goal is to develop detectors that can act as sage-grouse eyes, nose and mouth and allow managers to identify and conserve the least toxic sagebrush for foraging sage-grouse.