Wildlife Services Research Highlighted at TWS Conference

The Winnipeg skyline at sunset.

Image Credit: Travel Manitoba, licensed by cc 2.0

Wildlife professionals from Wildlife Services will be sharing research during a two-hour special event on Monday, October 19 from 1:00-3:00 pm at this year’s TWS Annual Conference in Winnipeg.

The event, titled The Latest in Wildlife Services Research, will highlight National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) methods development and research and will include six different talks.

  • Dr. Larry Clark, Director of the NWRC, will present on “Approaches toward Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts”
  • Dr. Stephanie Shwiff, research economist, will present on “Economics of Wildlife Management: the Glue that Binds”
  • Dr. Travis DeVault, supervisory research wildlife biologist, will present on “Sensory Ecology and Wildlife Behavior”
  • Dr. Antoinette Piaggio, research molecular biologist, will present on “The ‘Omics’ of Wildlife Management”
  • Dr. Brian Dorr, research wildlife biologist, will present on “Using Biomarkers to Assess Wildlife Populations”
  • Dr. Aaron Shiels, biologist, will present on “Strategies and Tools for Success of Invasive Rodent Control and Removal from Islands”

Abstracts are available below.

Title: Approaches toward Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts
Authors:  L. Clark
Abstract: Wildlife management has increasingly become a complex mixture of disciplines incorporating traditional wildlife management and ecology with other biological and social sciences. The USDA’s Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) reflects this diversity of activities from bench to field at the farm/agricultural-human-wildlife interface. The operative philosophy at the NWRC is integration of disciplines. Not only must NWRC scientists research and develop practical methods to be used for resolving conflicts between humans and wildlife, the NWRC staff need to work at the government-private sector interface to ensure regulatory compliance and successful transfer of its methods and products so that the various methods can be used by agricultural and conservation stakeholders and managers alike. The mission areas encompassing NWRC activity include: agricultural and natural resource protection; invasive species; wildlife diseases (surveillance and research); and, product research and development. Beyond the broad description of NWRC capabilities and activities, I will discuss models of leveraging assets to accomplish these goals and introduce specific approaches used by NWRC scientists as they blend new scientific approaches to old problems.

Title: Economics of Wildlife Management: the Glue that Binds
Authors:  S. Shwiff (presenter) and A. Anderson
Abstract: Benefit-cost analyses can assign monetary values to wildlife management actions, measure economic effects on the public, and determine the cost-effectiveness of government programs. Incorporating benefit-cost analyses into research studies helps biologists justify expenditures to protect resources and human health, and identify ways to do so more efficiently. In short, economics is one of many tools that can be used by wildlife managers everywhere to enhance decision making and maximize government efforts in resolving human-wildlife conflicts. In this presentation, we present a brief overview of some of the methods used to monetize the impacts of wildlife management actions and we highlight some of the benefit-cost analyses that have been performed at the National Wildlife Research Center.

Title: Sensory Ecology and Wildlife Behavior
Authors:  B. Blackwell, T. DeVault (presenter), B. Kimball, and S. Werner
Abstract: Development of novel, non-lethal, and effective methods to mitigate negative human-wildlife interactions such as animal depredation of agriculture and livestock, hazards posed to transportation, and transmission of zoonotic diseases often requires in-depth understanding of underlying behavior.  Investigating the mechanisms involved in animal sensory ecology and associated functions that drive behavior holds promise for minimizing the negative impacts of those behaviors.  Our purpose in this symposium is to examine animal visual and olfactory/gustatory paths, particularly, as related to the development of tools and methods to reduce wildlife hazards to aviation, depredation of crops, and threatened or endangered species.  We will focus on avian and snake visual, gustatory, and olfactory systems as they relate to 1) object detection and avoidance; and 2) detection and association of repellents with negative postingestive consequences; and 3) developing attractants to deliver toxicants.  Finally, we will summarize our progress and research goals.

Title: The “Omics” of Wildlife Management
Authors : D. Eckery, A. Piaggio (presenter), and K. Horak
Abstract: Genomics and proteomics are common applications in human health research, but are not frequently applied to wildlife management. Genomics encompasses a broad range of applications including tools that allow sequencing of countless mixed fragments of DNA to the identification of RNA that codes for or regulates proteins critical to the survival of an organism. Proteomics examines the structure and function of proteins. The ability to sequence innumerable fragments of DNA from a sample that contains all domains of life (metagenomics or metabarcoding) is a powerful new tool with endless possibilities for informing wildlife management. One area that has already changed what we know about wildlife species and their behavior is the application of metabarcoding to diet analysis. This same approach can allow us to identify many species from a mixed species samples such as insects from a trap catch. And for those that are blood feeding insects we can identify the blood meals without having to study each individual. The ability to identify fragments of RNA critical to the function of life specific to a particular species, at the cellular or organismal level, may allow us to create species-specific control mechanisms. RNA interference is a promising technology based on the concept that once a RNA sequence that is necessary for life is identified, a blocking RNA sequence can be designed that would render the necessary sequence non-functional. Proteomics is currently being used to identify proteins that are critical for the survival of cells involved in reproduction, particularly female gametes. This technology will be used to compounds that will cause permanent sterility in treated animals. At the USDA/APHIS/WS National Wildlife Research Center we are applying these approaches to wildlife populations to better understand the omnivorous diet of feral swine, develop diagnostic methods to identify vector species from a mixed species sample, identify the blood meal those species feed upon develop new toxins and create new methods of fertility control.

Title: Using Biomarkers to Assess Wildlife Populations
Authors:  B. Dorr (presenter), R. Stahl, A. Piaggio, and C. Ellis
Abstract: Biological markers (biomarkers) are unique biological indicators that can be used to assess the physiological state of an animal. Biomarkers can include the use of biological substances shed by an organism such as DNA in to the environment. Biomarkers have a long history of use in wildlife conservation and management with new techniques and novel applications being continually developed. Biomarkers can reflect inherent physiological processes such as aging, bioaccumulation of contaminants, disease, or they can be intentionally introduced through consumption of bait-markers or inoculation. Ideally biomarkers and biomarker detection systems used in wildlife management should be relatively inexpensive, easy to use, minimally invasive, and provide accurate and reproducible results. Using biomarkers to monitor wildlife and wildlife populations, health, demographics, location and movements are vitally important aspects of wildlife management and conservation. We discuss the USDA, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center’s development and use of biomarkers including; fatty acids in subcutaneous fat depots to assess diet, pentosidine in skin to establish age, environmental DNA to detect an organism, or non-invasive DNA (e.g. saliva, fecal, hair) to identify individuals, and estimate population size, and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) from breath and fecal samples as markers for disease in wildlife damage management and provide examples of their application.

Title: Strategies and Tools for Success in Invasive Rodent Control and Removal from Islands
Authors:  A. Shiels (presenter), G. Witmer, and A. Piaggio
Abstract: Invasive rodents, particularly Rattus spp. and Mus musculus, are among the most damaging mammals affecting island ecosystems. While island-wide eradications of invasive rodents have greatly increased in the last two decades, some islands are still too large to remove all invasive rodents, or otherwise have additional variables (e.g., human establishment, restricted access, public concerns) that prevent whole-island eradications of these pests. We highlight technological advances and recent case studies that include successes and failures in invasive rodent suppression and eradication, as well as review best practices and concerns for small- and large-scale removal of invasive rodent communities. We also describe monitoring tools, genetic techniques, and biosecurity measures necessary for accomplishing long-term island-wide eradication success. Advances in strategies and tools to control and remove invasive rodents from islands will help ensure conservation of native species and threatened habitats.

Wildlife Services is a Strategic Partner of TWS.