PORTLAND, Ore. — With an assist from Filbert — a furry, buck-toothed denizen of the Oregon Zoo’s Cascade Stream and Pond habitat — scientists at Oregon State University are preparing to sequence the genome of our state animal, the North American beaver.
Researchers say results of the Beaver Genome Project could help us better understand population dynamics of this iconic Northwest animal, which has evolved to play a key role in maintaining the habitat complexity of wetland ecosystems.
“This kind of research can tell us things like how many populations of beaver there used to be and even give us clues as to their size,” said Dr. David Shepherdson, the zoo’s deputy conservation manager. “It can also give some indication of how connected and genetically diverse our current wild populations are.”
“Beavers are important to the ecology of the region, and understanding their genome is an important part of understanding their behaviors and role in the ecosystem,” added Dr. Stephen Ramsey, assistant professor of biomedical sciences at OSU. “There is a lot of interest in exploring the genetics of wild beaver populations throughout the Northwest, but we lack the reference genome that would really facilitate those kinds of studies.”
Enter Filbert, a North American beaver at the OregonZoo. Since zoo veterinarians were conducting the animal’s routine physical exam and blood-work panel this month, they offered to set aside a small blood sample for OSU’s genome project.
This is the beaver in question in the Oregon zoo engaged in a daily pastime: it surely seems typical enough to make inferences on all members of the species.
Which is not to say this isn’t mildly interesting, but it’s certainly not the genetic research we need on beavers. What we need to do is look at all the pretend subspecies (three supposedly in California: Golden, Shasta and & Sonora) and find out if they’re really any different or if they’re just different names because some naturalist wanted credit. In Europe they tested all the pretend subspecies and found there was an east version and a west version, and that was it. We need to do that in the US, and we haven’t. All we need is a couple of hairs from the pelts in a museum and we’re good to go. Unfortunately this news is about the kind of genetic testing you would do on yourself to learn that you had ancestors in Asia or were once related to tribal kings. Interesting, but not going to change our thinking much.
Yesterday afternoon Rusty Cohn of Napa had the random fortune to be walking past the pond and film this amazing interaction of the three young otter pups born in Tulocay creek this year. This is the kind of moment that when you’re holding the camera you can’t believe you were lucky enough to get it on film. When I say enjoy. I know you will.