September 4 marks National Wildlife Day. Across the country, land-grant universities strive to support wildlife through conservation and management. Learn more about some of these NIFA-supported projects below.
Understanding chronic wasting disease in elk
Wyoming’s wildlife populations constantly face new and changing threats that force them to adapt. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) in cervids (the deer family) exists in both captive and free-ranging deer in at least 26 states and three Canadian provinces, as well as other countries. This disease causes weight loss, behavioral changes and nearly 100% mortality, and there is evidence of CWD-induced population declines. The presence of diseased elk is harmful to hunting and wildlife viewing communities, as well as to the ecosystems in which elk live. Elk can likely spread CWD to deer and moose, and elk are a vital part of their ecological communities and habitats.
However, previous studies indicate that some elk have genetic mutations that are correlated with slower disease progression and potentially lower susceptibility. Understanding how animals deal with new challenges – including disease – is a crucial part of supporting healthy wildlife populations through conservation and management efforts.
University of Wyoming the researchers worked with the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish to collect elk samples from hunter check stations. The samples were tested for the presence of the protein responsible for CWD and then provided to researchers for genetic sequence testing. More than 700 elk samples have been sequenced for the CWD protein gene sequence, and scientists plan to sequence approximately 1,000 samples, strategically taken from across Wyoming’s elk distribution. Researchers will perform statistical analysis of the data, including assessments for the presence of CWD protein in individual elk and geographic assessments.
Alien earthworms expand their reach and effects on forest ecosystems
Non-native earthworms cause a cascade of effects on the ecosystem. These exotic earthworms rapidly consume organic matter while burrowing into soils, accelerating decomposition and nutrient loss. This leads to changes in carbon sequestration, forest disturbance regimes, soil and water quality, forest productivity, plant communities and wildlife habitat. Invasive earthworms further facilitate other invasive species. In a warmer, more humid world, their habitats and numbers will likely grow faster and faster.
Researchers at University of Minnesota have been exploring the invasion and ecosystem impacts of alien earthworms in Minnesota forests for over a decade. Recently, they have extended their research to even colder climates. In 2019, after several years of intensive earthworm surveys in the Swedish Arctic, they began to examine the introduction, dispersal and ecological impacts of European earthworms in Alaska.
They found that in Alaska, active invasion and dispersal of earthworms occurs through many types of human activities such as gardening, fishing, and road building. Ongoing climate change will likely soon boost the survival and dispersal of earthworms in northern and interior Alaska. Given the massive ecological cascades that alien earthworms cause to soil carbon and nutrient cycles, understanding the dynamics of earthworm invasion should be a key part of future climate-related conservation efforts in boreal and temperate forest ecosystems.
Extension helps feral hog reduction project and education programs
With at least 3.5 million feral pigs, Texas has the largest population of feral pigs in the United States. The numbers and range of feral pigs continue to increase due to high reproductive rates and a lack of natural predators. Feral hogs cause significant damage to crops, livestock, pastures, fields, fences, roads, ponds, streams and rivers, and to wildlife populations and their habitat. Research indicates that field crop losses alone exceed $205 million per year, while total agricultural damage likely exceeds $230 million per year. Feral pigs pose a considerable public health risk as a reservoir of disease for wildlife, livestock and humans. Texas landowners spend about $7 million or more annually on feral hog control and damage mitigation.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Extension Wildlife Services conducted outreach to help growers and landowners reduce and eliminate feral hogs and provided growers and landowners with the tools to facilitate pest reduction themselves. wild pigs. Efforts reached 1.9 million people from 2017 to 2019 and resulted in reduced damage to crops, livestock and farm assets following the removal of nearly 90,000 feral pigs for a total economic benefit of $40.5 million dollars since 2017.
Top image: Elk Bull in autumn in Wyoming. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
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