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Conference of The Wildlife Society coverage part II

by Dave Armstrong 10 Nov 2011
Conference of The Wildlife Society coverage part II

White-tailed deer via Shutterstock

Part II of the Conference of The Wildlife Society coverage taking place in Waikoloa, Hawaii.

Landscape genetics used to study chronic wasting disease (in deer)

Midwestern White-tailed deer suffer from CWD. The recent discovery has become worse as USGS used landscape genetics and spatial analysis to study the pattern of infection across Wisconsin and Illinois. Man-made barriers including major highways and rivers actually helped by preventing spread of CWD. Management of the situation depends upon determining exactly which barriers slow down the epidemic and where we can expect the CWD to spread next.

Wyoming wolves attraction to various elk population (and cattle)


Elk via Shutterstock

Rocky Mountain wolves tend to attack domestic cattle and die for the crime. If, however, we can influence pasture rotation, then the main prey of the wolf could replace the domestics and save the lives of wolves. Wolves apparently kill cattle when they mix with elk herds. The USGS has a Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in northwest Wyoming where Abigail Nelson and Matthew

Kauffman strive to manage and educate the rangelands - and save lives.

Maternal dens mapped for Alaskan polar bears.

"One metre high and undisturbed from autumn to spring". Collecting ice landscape imagery and mapping potential dens for polar bears may make you feel you're the wrong species. In Alaska, however, conservation is the key. NPRA(The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska ) has petroleum reserves, would you believe, but needs areas for maternal dens. The winter exploration period for oilmen could disturb the animals, so Ground-truthing was carried out. This consists of checking actual sites against the aforementioned potential dens. Result? 113 km2 of den habitat were found in the huge 19,000 km2 involved in the Reserve.80% of them met the den habitat criteria but at least 20% of dens were not identified in mapping. With manual techniques of mapping too labour intensive, the results are slightly disappointing. The replacement of hard work with a relatively easy remote mapping technique will still be useful in providing a model for further progress in technique.

How unique are the two sage grouse genomes?

On the border of California and Nevada, a bi-state population of sage-grouse were the source of intriguing argument. Were they or weren't they? Greater sage-grouse or Gunnison sage-grouse? These guys were behaviourally and physically similar to Greater sage-grouse, but genetically different. The choices were Greaters or Gunnisons or, of course, never forget the possibility of another new species. The Gunnisons were recently declared a distinct species but, sorry guys! The bi-state population are unique, but genome studies show they're an offshoot of the Greater sage-grouse. Yet another little story of how useful your genome can be.

"Non-consumptive" effects of predation on elk.

When wolf or bear approach their prey, fear is an obvious part of the animal response. The after-effects would be a lower rate of browsing, loss of body fat and higher abortion rate. The Clark's Fork elk herd in Wyoming were tracked, measured and had their wolf predation rate investigated. After three years, Arthur Middleton reported that high vigilance was not noted where elk were predated a lot, negating the whole theory. An alternative hypothesis is that long-term drought and high predation by bears on new-borns is the reason for body fat levels changing. The summer conditions in Wyoming are the prime suspect. The wolves have been found not guilty of harassment, simply elk-slaughter.

Montane climate change and wildlife responses over a century.

American Pika

American Pika via Shutterstock

Mountain dwellers suffer from global warming according to this study. Upward movements of pikas (shown above) and many local extinctions have increased since the twentieth century. Dynamics driving early extinctions were different from recent causes, meaning that landscape research is urgently required. Future losses among the small species inhabiting the mountains could be down to further problems as temperatures rise.

Molecular detection of Amphibia from environmental DNA.

The freshwater stream has become the most endangered habitat of all in recent years. Despite its status at the head of the watershed, and huge fishing interests, industry and landscape change have taken a huge toll. Salamanders and frogs are among those most affected, but every terrestrial and freshwater group is involved. Extinction of Rocky Mountain tailed frogs (one of the most ancient extant frogs)..

Rocky Mountain tailed frogs

Not exciting, but his only ancient relative is in New Zealand (for herpetologists, his tail is formed from the cloaca!) Credit: David Pilliod

.. and the Idaho giant ( 34 cm) salamander is not likely, we hope. David Pilliod of USGS has been measuring the eDNA (gained from filters simply suspended in torrents) of these two rare amphibians. At the University of Idaho, Professor Lisette Waits and Kate Cleary halve the samples and identify the genetic material. Half is kept for reference banking. Knowledge of the extent of the populations of microscopic and macro-organisms is made possible without disturbing breeding cycles and almost extinct populations. A veritable revolution for all of us interested in invasive species and surveying rare aquatic beasties!

Immunocontraception use in controlling population growth rates in feral horses.

Herd of wild horses

Herd of wild horses via Shutterstock

18-25% increases in feral horses have been quoted among researchers for the Bureau of Land Management. With limited availability, the state of the land and the vegetation will obviously cause the animals future problems. USGS has tested two forms of PZP( porcine zona pellucida) contraceptive: liquid and pellet. In three herds chosen for study, with careful screening, significant reductions in foaling rate were produced, with the better technique using liquid form. Access to suitable mares and percentage success with wild subjects are at the crux of the few problems left. Side-effects of course will need to be further studied and wildlife managers will be able to reduce populations with an eye to their own local conditions.

If you missed Part I you will find it here.

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