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World's largest sheep an international traveler
Date:7/22/2011

NEW YORK (July 22, 2011)A genetic study of the world's largest sheep species has revealed that the big-horned animals travel extensively across the moutainous borders of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China according to Wildlife Conservation Society researchers with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Using a non-invasive technique that extracts DNA from fecal samples, researchers in WCS's Afghanistan Program found that Marco Polo sheep in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan are genetically connected to sheep in neighboring Tajikistan and China, in spite of the challenging terrain.

The study produced two recently published papers, appearing in recent editions of Conservation Genetics and Journal of Wildlife Management. The authors of the papers include: Richard.B. Harris of the University of Montana, and John Winnie, Jr.of Montana State University (both of whom did their work under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation Society); Gordon Luikart, Stephen. J. Amish, and F.W. Allendorf of the University of Montana; and Albano Beja-Pereira, Vnia Costa, and Raquel Godinho of the Universidade do Porto (Portugal).

"Wide-ranging species such as Marco Polo sheep are difficult to monitor in the best of conditions, and our ability to follow them across their mountain habitats is limited," said Richard B. Harris, a wildlife scientist from the University of Montana and the Wildlife Conservation Society. "Non-invasive methods of determining population trends and relatedness are extremely valuable in understanding how to best protect these magnificent animals."

Because Marco Polo (or argali) sheep are elusive animals that are difficult to track, the research team collected fecal samples from 172 individual sheep from five different areas in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China as a means of answering questions about the genetic diversity and connectivity of animals in the region. Researchers searc
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Contact: Stephen Sautner
ssautner@wcs.org
718-220-3682
Wildlife Conservation Society
Source:Eurekalert  

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