Two students in our lab recently presented posters at the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference that was held here at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in March 2017. Undergraduate student Mario Barenas presented a combination of laboratory procedures and subsequent research results entitled "Fetal data reveal reproductive trends in white-tailed deer (O. virginianus)". Great job Mario!
Illinois has been managing chronic wasting disease for over 10 years. The first case of chronic wasting disease was detected in 2002. The state has been tireless in its efforts to slow the spread of the disease which is 100% fatal in white-tailed deer. As the disease spreads to new states, like Michigan, managers are forced to select and deploy a management program in an effort to control the disease among their valuable herds of white-tailed deer. Research that our team published in 2014 compared the effectiveness of Illinois' disease management program to Wisconsin's disease management program. We found that when both states practiced similar management strategies, the prevalence of chronic wasting disease was similar at approximately 1%. However, when Wisconsin modified their management, prevalence increased in the following years to 5%. In contrast, the prevalence in Illinois remained stable at 1%. Now as managers in states like Michigan make crucial decisions on how best to manage, they can look to Illinois as an example of success. Our research provides the scientific evidence necessary to support their claim to success.
We recently completed a study to answer that question. As it turns out, river otters do a lot at latrines. They groom themselves, they groom each other, sniff things, dig and wrestle. Sometimes they visit in groups but more often they visit a latrine on their own. We developed and used a behavioral ethogram to describe behaviors that river otters display at latrines. We used trail cameras to capture river otter behavior and used that information to determine the most common behaviors, group size, time of day that otters prefer to visit latrines and visitation rates over the course of a year.
Check out the full study here! Be sure to look at the supplementary information where you can view actual video footage of each river otter behavior type (for example, look at this video of river otters wrestling!).
A special thanks to our co-author, Katie Monick. Katie completed all of the field work for this project as an undergraduate James Scholar in Animal Sciences.
Our lab participated in the Annual Meeting of the Illinois Chapter of the Wildlife Society in April. Our undergraduate and technician lab members presented two poster presentations on work that we are currently doing in our lab. Lauren Frisbie, Gretchen Anchor and Noelle Thompson collaborated with senior members of our lab to present "Chronic wasting disease tissue sampling". Adam Deeke and Megan Britton also collaborated with senior lab members to present "Genetic marker set variation and paternity assignment success in white-tailed deer". Check out our Presentations page to see the rest of the research that we shared at TWS!
Our lab recently published a study that indicates the usefulness of discarded tissues for genetic research. White-nose syndrome is sweeping through the North American bat population. The disease is caused by a fungus that is thought to prematurely wake bats from hibernation. Researchers enter bat hibernacula and collect swabs and tissue biopsies for white-nose syndrome testing. As you can imagine, researchers want to minimize their own disturbance to the bats so that they remain as strong and as healthy as possible. As a result, very few, very small tissue biospies are collected. The tissue samples are cultured in laboratories for a period of time, and typically discarded. We tested whether we could extract and amplify DNA after the culturing process. Our results indicate that it is possible! We are sharing this information with the community of scientists that collecting tissue samples so that we can work together to study white-nose syndrome and the genetics of bats.
Our lab recently published an innovative method to teach biosafety protocols to college students. The article entitled "The scene of the crime: classroom integration of biosafety, microscopy, and forensics" was published in the Nov-Dec issue of The American Biology Teacher journal. Our team developed and implemented a unique teaching module for our Animal Science 224 class. The students have the opportunity to work with animals on farms and our crime scene style investigation helps students identify breaches in biosafety protocols. The addition of this module to our course has helped students understand their role in maintaining the health of the animals at the University farms.
Click here to read the abstract!
New research from our lab used genetic assignment tests to determine likely source populations of animals infected with chronic wasting disease. Wildlife and disease managers are often concerned when infected animals are found far from the disease focus. In Illinois, the chronic wasting disease focus is located in the northern counties of Winnebago and Boone. Unfortunately, infected animals have been found in areas far from Winnebago and Boone. Genetic assignment tests were used to determine where the disease came from: did infected animals move out of the disease focus to inhabit new areas? The research indicates that white-tailed deer disperse long distances whether they are infected with chronic wasting disease or not. Although this is a sobering fact that can make disease management difficult, our previous investigation of prevalence rates in Illinois indicate that the current management strategy in the state has been effective.
Click here to read the whole story!
WILL Illinois Public Radio invited Drs. Nohra Mateus-Pinilla and Jan Novakofski to their studio to discuss research in managing chronic wasting disease. Jim Meadows, the host of Focus asked questions about the disease and the management program in Illinois to provide listeners with insight about the research. Listeners called in with interesting questions leading to a hour long discussion about all things chronic wasting disease.
Take some time to listen to the full interview here.