Tuesday 29 December 2015

Genetically pure bison population discovered in southern Utah

DECEMBER 26, 2015

by Chuck Bednar

A genetic analysis has found that a group of bison in southeastern Utah are genetically pure, meaning that they are directly descended from those what once roamed the American west, a study published this month in the journal PLOS One has revealed.

According to Associated Press and Utah Public Radio reports, scientists from Texas A&M and Utah State University found that the secluded creatures, which live in the Henry Mountains, are even more unique than other groups of bison that have not interbred with cattle.

As Dr. Johan du Toit, a professor of ecology and large mammal conservation at USU, explained to reporters, the Henry Mountain herds are “the only population of bison in existence which is now both genetically pure and is free of the disease brucellosis and is free-ranging on public land co-mingling with cattle and is legally hunted.”

Cross-breeding with cattle began in the 19th century, but after analyzing tissue samples from the approximately 350 bison from this herd, Dr. du Toit and his colleagues discovered that this “one of a kind” herd lacks cow DNA, and could ultimately improve bison recovery efforts.

Lack of cattle crossbreeding good news for species recovery efforts
As Utah Public Radio explained, cattle genes can alter the bison’s size and behavior. Ideally, conservationists looking to restore the herds and return them to national parks and other areas would prefer to use the rarer, pure DNA as part of their ongoing efforts.

Lead author Dr. Dustin Ranglack, now at Montana State University, told the AP that out of the 500,000 bison currently in the US, only 20,000 are considered wild bison. The Henry Mountain bison “represent a really important source for potential reintroduction projects that are trying to restore bison to a large portion of their native range,” he added.

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