Eurasian capercaillie

Female capercaillie 

IMAGE: JP Orsi 2017

Monitoring populations of elusive forest-dwelling species can present a number of challenges, particularly when population sizes are small because the species is under threat. However, using DNA analysis conservationists can try to estimate the number of animals in a population, keep track of populations over time, determine the sex and family relatedness of animals, and understand how connected different populations are.

Eurasian capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) were driven to extinction in the UK by hunting and habitat loss. The species was reintroduced in the 19th century, but today has a limited distribution across Scotland.  

These huge birds, the largest species of grouse in the world, have suffered a 90% decline since the mid-1970’s and it's possible that there are now fewer than 600 capercaillie left in the UK. Their last stronghold in Scotland is in the Cairngorms National Park, which is home to over 80% of the UK population.

The RZSS WildGenes team are assisting the work to conserve this iconic Scottish species. Thanks to the support of National Lottery players, the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project (CCP) is working with local communities in the Cairngorms National Park on a variety of initiatives to help secure the long-term future of capercaillie in the UK.  

The RZSS WildGenes team are providing information on the genetic status of capercaillie in Scotland and other European countries (where there are larger populations) to help with conservation decision-making for this species. 

Our Partners

Project type

Conservation genetics icon

Conservation genetics

The team

Dr Alex Ball

Dr Alex Ball

Conservation programme manager (RZSS WildGenes)

Liz Heap

Liz Heap

Senior lab technician (RZSS WildGenes)

Project updates

Date: May 2024

The first capercaillie genome has been sequenced by Darwin Tree of Life using a sample collected by the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project and RZSS WildGenes Biobank. We are using the genome to analyse faecal samples from the Cairngorms to gain population insights.

Female capercaillie 

IMAGE: Laura Moore 2019

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