Wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park have mixed ancestry

August 1, 2018, Public Library of Science
Three common pelage types presented in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park horses. Credit: NPS / Thom Buras

Feral horses living in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands of North Dakota likely had multiple origins, but have since become inbred, according to Igor Ovchinnikov of the University of North Dakota, and colleagues, in a study published August 1 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

While the origins of the horse herd at Theodore Roosevelt National Park are uncertain, historians suspect that the original group was a mix of from Native American horse traders and free-range horses maintained on the Badlands for ranching. To determine whether these origin assumptions were correct, in the current study, researchers collected hair samples from 196 horses in the and looked at two types of genetic markers that can indicate where the horses came from.

The researchers found that for one type of marker, some horses in the herd matched with the American Paint horse, a breed of mixed origins. Other horses had no close match, and instead had sequences with similarities to horses living in Siberia and East Asia, which is likely due to mixing of maternal lineages prior to the establishment of modern breeds. The analysis also shows that the herd is highly inbred and has less genetic diversity than other feral horse herds and domesticated breeds.

While the existing genetic data available for horses are insufficient to determine the exact origins of the horses roaming Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the findings can be used for future herd management strategies. Regardless of the ancestry of lineages, the researchers suggest that future herd management should focus on adding new members to the group to improve the genetic health of the herd.

Ovchinnikov summarizes: "Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA relationships demonstrated the distinctive nature of in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Maintenance of the as a breeding population will require adaptive management efforts focused on improving genetic diversity."

Explore further: Management of feral horses an ongoing challenge in the United States

More information: Ovchinnikov IV, Dahms T, Herauf B, McCann B, Juras R, Castaneda C, et al. (2018) Genetic diversity and origin of the feral horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0200795. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0200795

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Doug_Nightmare
5 / 5 (1) Aug 01, 2018
We bicycled the Park's loop road and got to watch the herd up close as they came to a roadside creek for water. Two young males stayed up on the road and let us know that we were not coming any closer to the herd. When the herd was watered they moved off. An entirely pleasant experience.

Earlier in the morning we stopped at the ranger shack and I was chatting with a female ranger and asked her what the proper protocol was for bicyclists encountering a resistant bison on the road. "Go back the way you came!" interjected a morbidly obese male with mouth merkin. Riight, make a 30 mile ride in 100 degree heat into a 60 mile ride. Wotta maroon.
Surveillance_Egg_Unit
5 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2018
We bicycled the Park's loop road and got to watch the herd up close as they came to a roadside creek for water. Two young males stayed up on the road and let us know that we were not coming any closer to the herd. When the herd was watered they moved off. An entirely pleasant experience.

Earlier in the morning we stopped at the ranger shack and I was chatting with a female ranger and asked her what the proper protocol was for bicyclists encountering a resistant bison on the road. "Go back the way you came!" interjected a morbidly obese male with mouth merkin. Riight, make a 30 mile ride in 100 degree heat into a 60 mile ride. Wotta maroon.


I would suggest heading for the trees away from the bison/buffalo if the woods are close by. They are too dangerous to mess with and will even chase you down if you are close enough to them.

Always stay alert and know your surroundings and the path.

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