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Past Funded Projects

Past Projects

2022 Projects (x2)

In the second year of the grants program, the Center again received numerous applications from across the country that were highly competitive and addressed numerous issues important to the bison industry. The Center is excited to announce the two projects selected for funding in 2022:

1. Assessing factors that influence the virulence of Mycoplasma bovis in bison (University of Wyoming)

Summary forthcoming

2. Investigating mineral and vitamin status and needs for bison (Colorado State University)

Summary forthcoming

2021 Projects (x8)

1. Benchmarking live animal and carcass quality outcomes at slaughter to identify factors impacting bison carcass value (Lily Edwards-Callaway, Colorado State University)

The United States bison industry is growing both in size and popularity. Although consumers are attracted to the credence attributes of bison, it is also critical to quantify quality characteristics that impact its economic value. However, there is no quantitative data on live animal and carcass attributes that are important to ultimate bison product quality and value. This project's overall goal is to establish a baseline of parameters that influence animal well-being, carcass quality, and economic value for both bison producers and processors. Establishing such a benchmark can help to identify specific indicators of bison carcass value and help determine the direction for future industry initiatives. Therefore, the objectives of this proposal are: 1) to understand stakeholder perceptions of needs and challenges related to bison quality, 2) to benchmark live animal and carcass quality outcomes related to animal well-being and carcass value of bison at slaughter, and 3) to identify factors that impact carcass value. This project will include a survey of industry stakeholders as well as antemortem and postmortem data collection at a processing facility. To accomplish these objectives, we will conduct: (1) a survey with bison industry stakeholders to understand perceptions, challenges and knowledge gaps related to bison quality and (2) live animal and carcass data collection at a Colorado bison processing plant to both benchmark and understand how measured factors impact ultimate carcass value. The bison industry can use this data to maximize value and profitability across the supply chain. Understanding how processes can be changed or adapted to positively impact product quality will be invaluable. As the bison industry has experienced a steady increase in production and demand over the past decade, it is the ideal time to begin a quality improvement initiative such as this benchmarking activity to clearly define guideposts and target goals for product quality in the future.

2. A baseline inventory assessment of biological and cultural impacts of buffalo restoration in Indian country (Megan Davenport, InterTribal Buffalo Council)

Restoration of North American buffalo (Bison bison) is occurring across the United States for a wide variety of reasons, with federally recognized Native Nations representing tens of millions of acres on which this movement is occurring. Collective Tribal efforts manifest through the work of the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC), whose membership of 76 Native Nations grows every year. As both a cultural and ecological keystone species, buffalo impact Tribal communities in a wide variety of ways. ITBC Member Tribes’ buffalo herds represent a wide variety of geographies, management styles, and resources, yet a dearth of baseline data exists to understand the impacts of buffalo on these lands. This study aims to utilize a participatory science approach to data collection in order to establish a baseline assessment of some of the biological and cultural impacts of buffalo restoration efforts. ITBC will recruit 12 Member Tribes to participate in the project. Using biological protocols developed by ITBC staff, Tribes will be encouraged to partner with other local groups and/or organizations to collect baseline data to assess the biological impacts of buffalo restoration on their respective lands. Training videos will be developed and distributed to participating Tribes by ITBC. In addition, participants will be asked to create an art project (drawing, poem, essay, craft, song, etc.) before and after the project to provide an assessment of the cultural impact of buffalo restoration.

3. An integrated approach to assess parasite burden and anthelmintic treatment success in North American bison (Jeba Jesudoss Chelladurai, Kansas State University)

Of the many health issues that bison face, one of the most common is the problem of internal parasites. Internal parasites use bison for shelter and nutrition, removing nutrients that the animal needs for health and growth. When parasites are present in low to moderate levels, their effects can often go unobserved. Bison with heavy parasite burdens may die. An estimated 5.3% of deaths in US bison are caused by parasites. The most common internal parasites are worms (known as nematodes) and protozoa (commonly called coccidia). Other parasites of importance include tapeworms, flukes and lungworms, but these are less common. Our overall objective in this project is to use a combination of classical and novel next generation genetic techniques to understand parasite distribution and variation in different seasons and geographical zones within the United States, to understand the effect of dewormer use on the parasites and to understand producer perceptions on deworming in US bison herds. Our hypothesis was that the distribution of internal parasites varies from farm to farm, region to region and are highly dependent on grazing systems, climate and herd composition. In the work performed in the first year of this project, we analyzed fecal samples from 450 individual bison located in the central U.S. We have assessed parasite burden of strongyle and Trichuris worms, coccidia and tapeworms in these samples using two techniques. We also assessed lungworms and flukes using classical parasitology techniques. We performed larval cultures on fecal samples that had strongyle type eggs, harvested the larvae and subjected them to next generation genetic tests called deep amplicon sequencing. We show for the first time that there is significant farm to farm variation in the parasite composition and diversity of strongyle parasites in bison. Surprisingly, genetic testing showed that bison with limited deworming history are carrying parasites that are highly associated with dewormer resistance in cattle. We are continuing to genetically analyze the samples collected in spring 2022 and will be collecting samples in Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 for further genetic testing. Additionally, we are conducting a survey of bison producers to understand producer perspectives about current parasite control measures that are used in their herds.

4. Bison on the move: How translocations affect bison production and disease prevalence across space, time, and organization (Jameson Brennan, South Dakota State University)

Expanding bison production and conservation in the 21st century relies on establishing new herds across the country by safely translocating bison to these localities. Annually, bison sales in the United States have averaged 57,327 head since 2002 with over 82% of those sales occurring within the Great Plains States. One-fifth of all operations reported moving bison either temporarily or permanently, with 44.5% of operations greater than 100 head reported translocating bison. In addition, conservation bison herds are routinely moved from source herd populations (National Park Service) to NGO and tribal entities for establishing satellite herds. Within Wind Cave National Park alone, approximately 85% of one- and two-year-old bison are translocated to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and other entities on a yearly basis. The combined sale and translocation of bison has resulted in the large-scale movement of animals across space and time. Translocating bison within various sectors of public, tribal, NGO, and private operations is essential for increasing bison conservation, enriching genetic integrity, and maintaining production; however, since the 1960s commercial bison production and bison conservation has experienced challenges in translocating animals due to exposure to disease risks and novel environments. Especially of concern, is the movement of bison across environmental and climatic gradients of aridity-humidity and temperature. Anecdotally, bison producers have reported that animals relocated from northern to southern climates often have poor animal performance. One factor that may influence the success of translocation is exposure to environmental heat stress, which has been shown to negatively impact animal performance, health, and reproduction. In addition, animal movements present unique opportunities for disease introduction and emergence. Translocations over long distances present novel environments that can alter infection dynamics in new and unanticipated ways. For example, certain intestinal parasites have broad geographic ranges but cause production losses only under specific environmental conditions. Little is known about the negative impacts of translocation on bison health and performance across environmental gradients. Thus, there is a critical need to determine the impact of translocation on animal health across environmental gradients and develop tools to help producers mitigate the effects on bison health. Data collection occurred last fall, and will again this coming fall, at Wind Cave National Park and across six satellite herds managed by TNC, ranging from western Kansas to eastern Indiana with mean annual temperature (MAT) spanning 4°C from 9–13°C and mean annual precipitation (MAP) nearly tripling from 32–82 mm. At each site, fecal samples were collected for parasitological analyses and thermal camera images were taken to assess differential body size and heat loads across climatic gradients. Historical datasets are being compiled across sites as well to assess the longer-term impact of translocation on body mass and reproduction. Lastly, a structured disease risk analysis will be conducted with experts across the bison industry to provide a set of standard screening guidelines for bison translocations. Preliminary results show that parasite abundance and diversity in bison change across temperature and precipitation gradients. Knowledge generated from this project help will inform producers on the impact of translocations across ecological regions and climatic gradients to improve herd biosecurity and minimize production losses due to animal translocation.

5. Characterization of bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) in bison (Angela Pillatzki, South Dakota State University)

The overall goals of this research project were to: 1) document BVDV infection in bison for the first time, 2) compare characteristics of BVDV infection in bison and cattle, and 3) characterize bosavirus infection in bison with and without concurrent infection with BVDV. Two American bison (Bison bison) from a private herd were identified as persistently infected with BVDV as part of a diagnostic investigation at the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (ADRDL) at South Dakota State University (SDSU). BVDV vaccines had not been administered to individuals in this herd since 2009. Prior to identification of BVDV, the pregnancy rate in this herd was significantly decreased in the two prior calving seasons. As the first report of BVDV persistent infection in bison, description of tissue lesions and virus distribution within the infected bison are important to understand clinical effects of infection, potential routes of transmission and the ability to become a reservoir host. and laboratory testing was used to characterize these. characterize the BVDV isolate from the affected herd and determine whether BVDV is still circulating and prevalence of exposure within herd mates.

6. Investigating the ruminal metagenome of grass-fed bison to uncover metabolic activities that impact the efficiency of forage utilization (Benoit St-Pierre, South Dakota State University)

Bison have the ability to maintain better than domestic grazers on forage of poor quality. Since rumen symbiotic microorganisms are responsible  or digesting feed, this suggests that they may be capable of extracting more out of plant fibers in bison. Consistent with this hypothesis, we have previously determined that rumen bacterial species from bison are very different from their counterparts in domestic grazers, suggesting that they may be more metabolically efficient. In this context, this research project aims to use a metagenomics approach (high throughput scale sequencing of rumen DNA to characterize microbial genomes) to gain a better understanding of the metabolic functions of bison rumen bacteria that are responsible for digesting plant fibers. In this report, we describe progress made towards completion of Objective 1, on assessing the metabolic potential of bacterial species from the rumen of bison fed a pasture-based diet. Objectives 2 and 3 will be addressed in year 2 and year 3, respectively. For Objective 1, large datasets of short-read sequences are being generated from microbial DNA extracted from rumen fluid of bison heifers that were maintained on pasture; these samples were collected as part of a previous study and have remained stored frozen since. The combined total size of these datasets is currently 117,201,495 sequences. These are being assembled into genomic contigs; each assembled contig corresponds to a partial chromosomal region of a ruminal microbial species from bison. As of the submission of this report, we have assembled 701 contigs that have a combined or cumulative length of 3,697,432 nucleotides. Gene annotation (predicting enzymatic functions encoded by contig DNA sequences) was started during this reporting period. Notably, contigs encoding enzymes that produce propionate, a short-chain-fatty acid that promotes higher performance in ruminants, were identified.

7. Habitat use and avoidance in a large, patchy landscape by American plains bison: Implications for management and conservation of the species (Dustin H. Ranglack, University of Nebraska - Kearney)

Many bison herds do not utilize all the area available to them, leaving areas of apparently high-quality habitat unused while potentially overusing other areas. This creates issues for bison managers who may desire more even distribution of animals across the available space. This project seeks to understand bison habitat selection at the Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico, where bison show this pattern of use. In February 2022 we deployed 22 GPS collars on adult female bison at the Vermejo Park Ranch, each of which takes 1 GPS location each hour. Using this GPS data, we will document bison habitat preferences in an effort to understand why bison use some areas more and other areas less. This will include analyses on bison movement corridors and habitat selection. This will be the main focus on year 1, so that we have a baseline understanding of where the bison go and why. In year 2, we will then use various management actions to encourage bison to use underused areas. This could include potentially using habitat treatments, like prescribed fire, to create areas that bison like to try to encourage bison to naturally move into these area, or perhaps physically moving bison through herding or in trucks to those areas where we would like to see more bison use. Our GPS collars will still be active, plus we will deploy another 14 GPS collars in February 2023, so that we can see how bison respond to these efforts, as well as if and how the knowledge of these underused areas is transferred to naïve bison, as bison as a social species for which memory and learning plays a key role in habitat selection. Finally, we will critically assess the keystone species designation of bison. Bison engage in a variety of ecological interactions and processes. These can include behaviors such as grazing, wallowing, etc., or process such as gene flow. We will examine the space and time required for each of these bison ecological processes from the existing scientific literature. For example, decisions on where to graze may take place at relative short time scales (hours) and relatively small areas (1-10 hectares), while others, such as gene flow between herds, may take place at much longer time (decades to centuries) and spatial (continental) scales. After this has been examined, we will evaluate which aspects of bison ecology are, and are not, being conserved under the current bison conservation paradigm, where most bison are confined on small to medium sized ranches/refuges and managed on shorter time scales (1-5 years). This will allow us to identify which aspects are not being conserved and adjust management practices accordingly.

8. Comparison of ground nesting bee (Apoidea) abundance and diversity between bison wallows and adjacent prairie (Joshua Campbell, USDA - Agricultural Research Service)

The Northern Great Plains (NGP) are primarily comprised of mixed- and shortgrass prairie habitats, which are currently estimated to span only a small percentage of their historic extent due to human land-use conversion. The remaining grasslands have been fundamentally altered by the removal of historic grazers, including bison, and subsequent intensive management for agriculture and domestic grazers. Although cattle have largely replaced bison as the primary grazers throughout North America, there is clear evidence that the disturbance regimes of these domestic grazers do not sufficiently replicate those of their historic counterparts. Wallowing, a behavior unique to bison, is one of the most evident and immediately observable differences between the two grazers. Bison create wallows (shallow depressions with exposed bare ground) in the dirt by repeatedly rolling on the ground. Although other studies have found greater arthropod diversity on abandoned bison wallows than surrounding prairie, how these wallows specifically affect bees, arguably the most important insect pollinators, is largely unknown. Approximately 67% of the 4,000 native bee species in the United States construct and inhabit nests in soil. However, despite the importance of bees for pollination services for crops and native plants, soil characteristics that drive bee nesting are poorly understood. Bees often target bare soil for nesting purposes and the bare soil patches created by wallowing behavior may be important for many bee species for nest construction. We proposed to compare ground-nesting bee abundance and diversity between wallows and adjacent prairie (non-wallowed area) by using emergence traps (a type of insect trap that collect insects that emerge from the ground) and visual surveys. During the summer of 2021, we monitored 12 bison wallows and 12 controls (adjacent prairie with no wallowing) with emergence traps and visual surveys and are currently identifying the ground nesting bees that were collected. In 2022, we increased the number of bison wallows and control to 25 each. During each emergence trap collection event, vegetation surveys around wallows were also conducted to allow us to characterize how bison may affect local vegetation. Additionally, soil samples were taken from each wallow and control to determine if bison wallows have altered soil characteristics. Knowledge of how bison behavior (e.g., creating wallows) affects native bees and vegetation will elucidate further the importance of bison within native prairie ecosystems. This research thus aims to build upon current knowledge of Northern Great Plains pollinator diversity and assess how bison disturbance on conserved grasslands drives pollinating communities, with a specific focus on ground-nesting bees in the American Prairie Reserve (APR) near Malta, Montana.