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WVU researchers to reintroduce elk populations to West Virginia

By Madison Ely, The Daily Athenaeum

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — WVU experts are working to promote biodiversity across the state through the reintroduction of elk in West Virginia.

Wildlife and fisheries professor Amy Welsh and graduate student Adam Cook are heading the project in collaboration with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, using genetics to monitor the success of the reintroduction of two subspecies of elk native to Kentucky and Arizona.

Wild elk populations in the state decreased in the late 1800s due to hunting and timbering but were reintroduced to the region following the West Virginia Department of Natural Resource’s Elk Restoration Project in 2016, according to the WVDNR’s website.

Following the reintroduction of the new species, Welsh and Cook will compare the populations to determine if one is more genetically diverse than the other, according to Welsh.

“We are looking at their whole genome. We’re analyzing random portions of their whole entire genome and looking at regions of the genome to see if there’s genetic diversity present,” Welsh said.

The project will also measure the integration of the species through breeding patterns, according to Cook.

“We just want to make sure that these elk are meeting with each other outside their own little subgroups, which can lead to more population growth,” Cook said.

The pair are also using genetic analysis to prevent common diseases among the species.

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