How much do you know about the British Columbia mountain goat?
They have AMAZING abilities to:
●Climb and travel on steep rock cliffs -keeping them safe from their predators.
●Survive winter temperatures from -50 C
●Withstand winds up to 90 KPH
●Travel long distances through deep snow, avalanches, rock falls, and ice
Incredible animals, they are deeply loved creatures that are culturally important for local First Nations groups and a popular game species in B.C.
But these mountain goats need our help.
They are under many threats due to climate change.
Higher temperatures have forced mountain goats higher and higher up mountains to avoid summer heat, reducing their food supply. Forest fires are also playing a role in population decline.
Mountain goats are able to travel long distances across forested valleys to reach other mountains. This is known as population dispersal, occurring when a species leaves the space they have occupied to settle in new areas. Dispersal is good for the genetic health of mountain goat populations.
However, if a mountain goat is stopped or delayed by obstacles caused by human activity like highways, railways, barbed wire fences, etc. dispersal may not succeed – which can negatively impact their genetic diversity. All these stressors have taken a toll on their ability to survive.
That’s why, Jesse Wolf, a MSc Candidate at Trent University in the ENLS program, is studying the population genetics of B.C. Mountain Goats.
His research team is attempting to determine the level of population structure among mountain ranges in B.C.
He’s trying to better understand how similar or different mountain goats are between mountain ranges, that are often separated by large distances.
Jesse is using various genetic tools to protect this species, such as animal tissue and fecal pellets to access genetic information about an individual mountain goat. He is extracting DNA from these samples to depict patterns of diversity. Jesse is comparing and contrasting the genetics of mountain goats in different areas of northern B.C.
So far, Jesse has found that distance is not a major factor in determining the population structure of the B.C. mountain goats. Since mountain goats are separated by large distances and continue to be genetically similar, it is possible that individual mountain goats are moving great distances between large mountain ranges. Knowing that there are no distinct genetic groupings means there is gene flow in a region. This helps researchers know how exactly to preserve the species.
Jesse’s research can be used to better determine how to maintain the health of this species. Mountain goats existing in alpine environments will continue to change due to climate change. Quantifying the population structure of this species will add to the body of knowledge we can use to inform management policies.
Thank you Jesse Wolf for adding to research to better protect the B.C.
Here is what he had to say about his experience:
“I have had an amazing experience since starting at Trent University. Through my masters degree, I have grown markedly, and have had opportunities to work with many knowledgeable and special people who have taught me a lot and aided in my evolution as a scientist. My supervisor Dr. Aaron Shafer and the rest of my lab have helped me get to where I am today; I could not ask for better colleagues and friends at Trent.”