Plucking Hairs: New Feral Swine Genetic Archive
Tucked away in the NWRC genetics laboratory, biologist Tim Smyser opens a box from WS field specialists in Florida. The package could have come from WS experts in any one of 39 states and Guam who are participating in a national effort to create a feral swine genetic archive. Inside the box are hair samples from feral swine. Comprising of at least 30 hairs each, the samples provide NWRC geneticists with enough DNA to genotype or “genetically fingerprint” individual feral swine. While they may not seem like much, these hairs will help scientists identify and distinguish among current feral swine populations as well as determine their origins.
To date, more than 5,400 samples have been collected by WS biologists and field specialists, with 75 percent of those added to the archive within the past two years. NWRC geneticists expect samples from Canada and Mexico to be added to the archive in 2016. Samples are collected opportunistically as part of WS’ operational efforts to control feral swine damage. Hair is plucked from the back of the animal.
Analysis so far has revealed nine distinct genetic populations in the United States associated with 1) southeastern states, 2) south central states, 3) Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 4) North Carolina and Virginia, 5) southcentral Indiana, 6) west central Illinois, 7) Oahu, 8) Kauai, and 9) northwest Arizona. Geneticists are also beginning to compare the genetics of emerging feral swine populations with potential source populations (including domestic breeds and wild boar) to help identify the origins of new populations. For instance, did an emerging feral swine population in Minnesota originate from Texas or Canada? The answer may help guide future management actions, policies or regulations.
As the genetic archive continues to grow, NWRC experts will soon have the necessary sample sizes to address questions about local or regional processes that influence feral swine expansion and their impacts on native ecosystems.
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