Wolf Crosses the Lake Superior Ice to Become Leader of the Pack

Isle Royale wolves get a tiny bit of genetic renewal-

Wolf Crosses the Lake Superior Ice to Become Leader of the Pack. By Nicholas Bakolar. New York Times.

Greater Yellowstone Bison show signs of inbreeding.

Government slaughter could irreparably harm bison species.

Buffalo on Horse Butte © Ken Cole

Recently I referenced unpublished data indicating that bison suffer from compromised mitochondrial DNA which could be exacerbated by government slaughter without any examination as to how it will affect the already genetically compromised herd.  That information has now been released.

Historically, bison have gone through what is known as a bottleneck where the population declined to such a low number that their genetic diversity became severely limited. The Yellowstone herd of bison is derived of only about 50 individuals, half of which were brought in from other areas such as northwest Montana and Texas. In recent years, while conducting repeated culling – where greater than half of the Yellowstone herd could be killed either by slaughter or winter kill – government managers never studied how their actions affected the genetics of the bison. For example, prior to the winter of 2007/2008 the population was estimated to be 5,500. That winter 1,631 buffalo were killed by the government and hunting but an additional 1,500 died from starvation due to the harsh winter that they were unable to escape because their habitat has been so curtailed by the policy of Montana and its greedy livestock industry. This left only 2,300 bison, or less than half of the bison herd, the following spring and possibly irreparably harmed the remaining genetic diversity of the herd. Read the rest of this entry »

New report indicates that Yellowstone Bison are the only genetically pure herd managed by the Department of Interior

Yellowstone herd also contains two distinct populations.

Buffalo on Horse Butte © Ken Cole

Buffalo on Horse Butte © Ken Cole

It has long been postulated that Yellowstone bison are important because they remain the only continuously free roaming herd but their importance has been elevated with the disclosure of a recent report which says that they are also the only genetically pure herd among those managed by the Department of Interior.

Not only this, but the Yellowstone population actually consists of two distinct populations which has extraordinary management implications.  Currently the management plan for Yellowstone bison does not take in to account the two distinct populations leading to the possibility that management actions could have a disproportionate impact on one population over that of the other.  These kinds of impacts can be profound genetically and can lead to loss of genetic diversity over time.  The management activities can also have disproportionate impacts on herds because they can eliminate entire maternal groups, groups of closely related cow/calf groups, which are routinely captured and slaughtered on the northern and western boundaries of Yellowstone Park.

Read the rest of this entry »

Is the American Chestnut ready to begin its restoration?

The first large scale planting blight resistant chestnut is done-

When the chestnut blight hit in the 1950s, there were probably 3 billion American chestnut trees in the United States. Now there are perhaps only about a hundred trees in its natural range. The demise of the chestnut was a blow to wildlife that ate their prolific and reliable nut crop. The current die off of whitebark pine from a blight and bark beetles is a more recent catastrope.

There is now good news for the return of the American chestnut, The mighty American chestnut tree, poised for a comeback. By Juliet Elperin. Washington Post.  Of course, it will take a hundred years for a widespread restoration, one that will have big ecological benefits.

The American chestnut’s blight resistance was created by crossing it with the highly resistant Chinese chestnut in way that retained essentially all the details of the American chestnut. Perhaps a similar restoration can be done for the whitebark pine, although I suppose the preferred method might be direct genetic manipulation of survivors because of a lack of closely related pines.

I think we will need more and more genetic science to keep our ecosystems from unravelling in this rapidly changing world.