Conserving Yukon Caribou: Use of Genetics to Inform Herd Assignment and Conservation Designations

Khoa Nguyen Earlham College, My Hoang Earlham College, Dominic Saidu Earlham College
Faculty Sponsor(s): Karen Mager Earlham College
The Yukon Territories, Canada is home to multiple caribou herds with overlapping ranges and great variation in size and migratory behavior. While many populations have been declining, others are stable, increasing, or not yet assessed. Recent conservation efforts in Canada rely heavily on ecotype designation, which can group the threatened herds with other herds. A herd’s designatable unit can influence the conservation activities for a particular herd, regardless of its population trend. Given such challenges, the use of genetic tools to differentiate between caribou herds is crucial for contributing to conservation assessment. Therefore, our research goals are: 1) to distinguish Yukon caribou herds based on genetic patterns; 2) to construct a reliable genetic assignment method for herd identification of unknown captured caribou and 3) to compare Alaskan and Canadian caribou. We extracted DNA from more than 150 samples of three specimen types: whole blood, fecal pellets, and dried blood on filter paper, and amplified them using PCR at 18 microsatellite loci. These data were combined with an existing dataset of 655 Alaskan caribou. Our ongoing research is using the STRUCTURE clustering approach and pairwise Jost’s D, along with other tools, to determine the genetic population structure within and among herds. This research will help wildlife managers to determine which designatable unit each caribou herd should belong to, especially the Fortymile and Nelchina herds which are yet to be classified. It will also aid wildlife managers faced with unknown harvest in determining whether genetic assignment is a viable approach.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

09:45 AM
Gallahue Hall 102