Black-footed Ferret: an Endangered Species
Black-footed ferrets were once thought to be extinct until the mids, when 18 individuals were discovered in Wyoming. They were. Another helpful building block would be to divvy up prairie dogs so they are not treated like pests, but are consumes by black footed ferrets. The black-footed ferret is a nocturnal prowler whose fate is closely tied to that of the prairie dog. The ferret eats ground squirrels, mice, birds, and insects. It lives.
Ectoparasitic flies on birds Levin and Parker In the Galapagos, great frigatebirds Fregata minor are parasitized by Olfersia spinifera hippoboscid flies, and Nazca boobies Sula granti are parasitized by Olfersia aenescens hippoboscid flies.
Nature's symbiotic tango with black-footed ferrets and black-tailed prairie dogs - Prairie Dog Pals
The great frigatebirds have distinct genetic population structure among islands, but their hippoboscid flies and a pathogen transmitted by the flies Haemoproteus iwa have no genetic differentiation among islands Levin and Parker Also, of the few Olfersia spinifera hippoboscid flies sampled on a second frigate species F. Similarly, the Nazca boobies had distinct genetic lineages among sites, whereas the hippoboscid flies on boobies showed no genetic differentiation among sites or among multiple booby host species.
How could the parasites be so well-mixed among sites, while their bird hosts are not?
Levin and Parker suggest two hypotheses: Remember that Pteropus vampyrus bats may play that kind of role in the bat fly example above.
But juvenile birds may still visit other sites without mating, and thus without influencing bird population genetic structures, and those visits could spread the parasites among the islands, thus mixing the parasite lineages. Feather lice on birds Koop et al. Hawks are thought to cross open water far less often than the frigatebirds and boobies in the previous example. Unsurprisingly, Galapagos hawk populations have high genetic differentiation among islands, where the genetic differences among populations increase with the distance among islands Koop et al.
Prairie Wildlife Research: Burrowing owl
Hawk feather lice also show high genetic differentiation among islands, unlike in our previous parasite examples. Furthermore, lice are mostly vertically transmitted from parent to offspring, rather than the host-roost-host or horizontal host-host transmission routes in the previous systems.
As a result, there is also genetic differentiation of lice among individual hosts, so that each host acts like a parasite island!
Feather mites on birds Dabert et al. The mites are thought to be transmitted only during direct host contact, either vertically from mother to offspring or horizontally among hosts.Harsh Reality of Saving Endangered Ferrets - National Geographic
Even though the two skua species nest at the same sites during the breeding season, nests tend to be spaced far apart, so Dabert et al.
Both skua species had mites in the Alloptes genus, which were morphologically very similar, but which were genetically distinct enough between the two host species to be classified as two different species.
However, both skua species also had Zachvatkinia isolata mites, and those mites had a well-mixed population with no evidence for genetic differentiation among host species.
Nature’s symbiotic tango with black-footed ferrets and black-tailed prairie dogs
How could that be? Well, the two skua species do contact each other, during very brief but common aerial fights. As for non-flying host species, check back next week for an example of how the insight gained from studies like this can be used in an applied way to manage parasite transmission. I was watching a lot of Fringe when I made this cartoon.
Discovery of sylvatic plague in the colonies stepped up efforts to eliminate the prairie dogs. From to present, prairie dog populations plummeted to about 5 to 10 percent of their former numbers.
The wholesale conversion of prairie to crop land further impacted the ferrets and their prey. With patches of prairie becoming fewer and farther between, ferret habitat became increasingly fragmented.
Black-Footed Ferrets vs. Prairie Dogs
The remaining black-footed ferrets became more isolated, and unable to reproduce. Crowding wildlife into smaller islands of habitat causes inbreeding. The lowered immune responses of inbred animals increases the likelihood of epidemic disease. Inan outbreak of canine distemper brought by domestic dogs and coyotes devastated the already-precarious ferret population.
Bythere were just 10 known black-footed ferrets in the wild. Conservation Actions Protection Under the Law The black-footed ferret was first officially recognized by the United States government as threatened in and was listed as endangered when the Endangered Species Act ESA was created in By the time the United States Fish and Wildlife Service adopted a recovery plan for habitat protection inhowever, the ferret had declined to near extinction. The recovery plan has since been modified with emphasis on captive breeding and reintroduction.
Captive breeding populations are maintained at the Sybille Wildlife Research Station in Wyoming and several zoos. After the black-footed ferret population was decimated by disease, biologists determined that the remaining wild ferrets were not a viable breeding population. The last 12 ferrets were captured and combined with 6 ferrets already in captivity to bring the world total to 18 ferrets, all in captivity, in Captive breeding has been successful. Sufficient numbers of prairie dogs were born to allow reintroduction to be attempted after just a few years.
Inthe first reintroduction of 49 juvenile ferrets was completed. Careful monitoring showed that 12 percent of these ferrets were able to survive the winter. The discovery of two wild-born litters was a particularly good sign. A second group of 90 captive-bred ferrets was released in