​Potential demographic and genetic effects of a sterilant applied to wild horse mares

Product Type: 

Open-file Report




Roelle, J.E., S.J. Oyler-McCance

Suggested Citation: 

Roelle, J.E., S.J. Oyler-McCance. 2015. ​Potential demographic and genetic effects of a sterilant applied to wild horse mares. ​Open-File Report 2015–1045. Reston, VA: U.S. Geological Survey. 154 p.

Wild horse populations on western ranges can increase rapidly, resulting in the need for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to remove animals in order to protect the habitat that horses share with numerous other species. As an alternative to removals, BLM has sought to develop a long-term, perhaps even permanent, contraceptive to aid in reducing population growth rates. With long-term (perhaps even permanent) efficacy of contraception, however, comes increased concern about the genetic health of populations and about the potential for local extirpation. We used simulation modeling to examine the potential demographic and genetic consequences of applying a mare sterilant to wild horse populations. Using the VORTEX software package, we modeled the potential effects of a sterilant on 70 simulated populations having different initial sizes (7 values), growth rates (5 values), and genetic diversity (2 values). For each population, we varied the treatment rate of mares from 0 to 100 percent in increments of 10 percent. For each combination of these treatment levels, we ran 100 stochastic simulations, and we present the results in the form of tables and graphs showing mean population size after 20 years, mean number of removals after 20 years, mean probability of extirpation after 50 years, and mean heterozygosity after 50 years. By choosing one or two combinations of initial population size, population growth rate, and genetic diversity that best represent a herd of interest, a manager can assess the likely effects of a contraceptive program by examining the output tables and graphs representing the selected conditions.

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