How Wild Pig Populations Differ Genetically in Areas with Swine Fever

Jim Crocker
14th May, 2024

How Wild Pig Populations Differ Genetically in Areas with Swine Fever

Image Source: Brett Sayles (photographer)

Key Findings

  • In eastern Germany, researchers studied how landscape features like roads and rivers affect wild boar movement and disease spread
  • They found certain features, such as the lower Elbe valley and the A11 freeway, act as barriers, limiting wild boar movement and potentially disease spread
  • High connectivity areas, like the Mecklenburg Lake District, allow wild boars to move freely, which could lead to wider disease distribution
In the heart of Europe, the spread of African swine fever (ASF) poses a significant threat to both wild boar populations and the pork industry. Understanding how these wild boar populations interact and spread disease is crucial for controlling outbreaks. A recent investigation by researchers at Justus-Liebig University has provided valuable insights into the genetic makeup of wild boar in eastern Germany, an area recently impacted by ASF[1]. The study focused on the genetic differentiation of wild boar across 31 hunting grounds, covering a vast area of nearly 100,000 km². By sampling 1,262 wild boars, researchers aimed to understand how geographical features such as roads, rivers, and cities affect the connectivity between populations, which is essential for managing disease spread. To unravel the genetic tapestry of these populations, the team employed 12 microsatellite markers—short, repeating sequences of DNA that vary greatly among individuals and are useful for studying genetic differences. Three distinct Bayesian algorithms, recognized for their ability to decipher complex genetic structures within populations[2], were used to analyze the data. These methods integrate prior knowledge with observed data to estimate the probability of different genetic scenarios. The combined approach of these algorithms yielded a consensus of nine genetic clusters, revealing how wild boar populations are connected or separated across the region. Notably, the study found a significant genetic divide along the lower Elbe valley, through Berlin, and extending to the A11 freeway. This divide suggests that certain landscape features can act as barriers to the movement of wild boar, influencing the spread of ASF. Conversely, areas like the Mecklenburg Lake District demonstrated high levels of connectivity, indicating that wild boar there move freely, potentially spreading disease over wider areas. The research highlights that barriers to wild boar movement are not uniform; their effectiveness can vary depending on the specific landscape features involved. Comparing the genetic data with the distribution of ASF viral lineages, the researchers found a correlation between the genotypes of wild boar populations and the ASFV lineages present. This relationship underscores the importance of genetic studies in understanding disease dynamics and supports the use of genetic data in managing ASF outbreaks. The study's findings have practical implications for ASF control measures. By identifying areas of high connectivity and significant barriers, wildlife managers and policymakers can tailor their strategies, such as establishing targeted barriers or controlling movement in specific corridors, to better contain the spread of ASF. This research builds upon previous studies that have used spatial Bayesian clustering methods to delineate genetic units within species[3]. It also expands our understanding of how hidden genetic structures and admixture events can be identified using Bayesian statistical methods[2], providing a more nuanced picture of population dynamics in the context of disease ecology. The insights gained from this study are not only pertinent to the containment of ASF in wild boar but also have broader applications in wildlife management and conservation efforts. By pinpointing how landscape features influence the genetic structure and connectivity of animal populations, we can develop more informed strategies to protect biodiversity and mitigate the spread of diseases across different species and ecosystems.

GeneticsEcologyAnimal Science


Main Study

1) Genetic differentiation of wild boar populations in a region affected by African swine fever

Published 11th May, 2024

Related Studies

2) Bayesian identification of admixture events using multilocus molecular markers.

Journal: Molecular ecology, Issue: Vol 15, Issue 10, Sep 2006

3) Assessing Genetic Structure in Common but Ecologically Distinct Carnivores: The Stone Marten and Red Fox.

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