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Improving Population Monitoring of Wolverines by Integrating Noninvasive Genetic Monitoring and Remote Camera Trapping

Nicole Bealer
Kylie Paul, Wolverine Watchers
Jessie Golding, USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station
Kristy Pilgrim, National Genomics Center for Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Mark Hebblewhite, University of Montana, Missoula
Kevin Scot McKelvey, USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station

Wolverines (Gulo gulo) are a rare species of conservation concern that inhabit high-elevation montane climates in North America. Because of their remote habitat and rarity, wolverines are difficult to monitor and there is limited information on the population status of wolverines. Scientists are concerned that wolverines may be adversely affected by climate change as they rely on persistent spring snowpack, which increases the need for effective wolverine monitoring. Wolverines in the Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) were monitored for six years (2014-2020) with noninvasive genetic sampling via hair snag and individual identification via remote camera trap, which allowed for the identification of 27 genetically unique wolverines. Identified wolverines were genotyped at 20 microsatellite loci which were analyzed with the software Cervus for genetic relatedness. Potential first-order relationships (parent-offspring or siblings) were identified via exclusion of genetically mismatched candidates, which were used to construct potential family groups and relationships. Individuals detected at more than two locations were fitted with minimum convex polygons estimating their home range extent using the R package adehabitatHR. Potential relationships revealed two distinct subgroups (of 8 and 14 individuals) connected by no potential relationships that correspond to generally different spatial areas. The combination of familial relationships and spatial patterns illustrates the connections between individual wolverines and related groups on the landscape. This research provides important information describing the population status of wolverines in western Montana, which will inform decisions about the conservation of wolverines and provide an improved baseline status for future monitoring. Additionally, integration of genetic and spatial data for wolverines presents a novel approach to monitoring other rare and remote species that may yield a wealth of powerful information about their populations.

The Origin of Nitrogen Fixation Genes in Cyanobacterium Acaryochloris marina

Jacob J. Baroch, University of Montana, Missoula

Biological nitrogen (N) fixation involves the reduction of atmospheric N2 to biologically available ammonia (NH3) and is performed by a wide variety of prokaryotic microorganisms. Fixed N is often the limiting nutrient in ecosystems; therefore, microorganisms that can fix N2, such as some cyanobacteria, are an important source of biologically available N in N-limited habitats. Acaryochloris marina is a Chlorophyll d-producing cyanobacterium that lives attached to red algae or colonial ascidians along the intertidal zone of marine environments. Through comparative genomics, we recently found that an A. marina clade consisting of three strains – GR1, MU08, and MU09 – possesses the ~20 nif genes required to perform N fixation, while all other A. marina strains lack these genes; they appear to have been acquired by horizontal transfer. Here, I performed phylogenetic analyses on these A. marina nif genes as well as those of related organisms to identify the potential donor(s). My study informs our understanding of the horizontal transfer of genes responsible for an important biological process.

Why are some people expensive walkers?

Madison Reichelt
Kania Smith
Brooklyn Cunningham
Jacob Deschamp

The energy cost to the human body during walking with and without a load has been the focus of scientific study for over a century. Our lab previously studied this physiology in a large cohort of young adults, and found that over 1/3rd of the 233 individual measures exceeded literature based expectations by greater than 20%, compared to the three most accepted and current models. Here, we attempted to explain why some individuals can vary from expectation by up to 45%. Because the muscular contribution, and thus rates of ATP hydrolysis during walking are reduced by the effectiveness of the exchange of kinetic and potential energy that happens within a walking stride, we asked whether individuals with unexplainably high rates of energy use during walking were relatively poor at performing these mechanical transfers. We specifically expected that the energy recovered by the pendular exchange occurring during the walking gait would be less in individuals with unexplainably high metabolic costs. The data for this project was acquired with the help of the students participating in the fall 2020 IPAT capstone research experience. As part of this class, and due to Covid19 precautions students were trained to administer on themselves without anyone else being present in the lab thereby preventing the spread of SARS-CoV2, the following: cardio-pulmonary exercise testing and simultaneously measure the kinetics of human gait from an instrumented treadmill. The students completed 5 min walking trials at speeds of 1.0, 1.3, 1.5, 1.8, and 2.1 with and without a load (20.5 kg). Our results indicate that measures from our group of students in the unloaded condition conformed fully to literature expectation. However, in the loaded condition we identified 4 individuals whose measured values were poorly predicted from current techniques. We now explore the relationship of pendular energy exchange in the individuals with high metabolic cost of walking, as the basis for further study.