Feral horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) represent an iconic era of the North Dakota Badlands. Their uncertain history raises management questions regarding origins, genetic diversity, and long-term genetic viability. Hair samples with follicles were collected from 196 horses in the Park and used to sequence the control region of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and to profile 12 autosomal short tandem repeat (STR) markers. Three mtDNA haplotypes found in the TRNP horses belonged to haplogroups L and B. The control region variation was low with haplotype diversity of 0.5271, nucleotide diversity of 0.0077 and mean pairwise difference of 2.93. We sequenced one mitochondrial genome from each haplotype determined by the control region. Two complete mtDNA sequences of haplogroup L were closely related to the mtDNA of American Paint horse. The TRNP haplotype B did not have close matches in GenBank. The phylogenetic test placed this sequence in a group consisting of two horses from China, one from Yakutia, and one from Italy raising a possibility of historical transportation of horses from Siberia and East Asia to North America. Autosomal STR loci were polymorphic and indicated that the TRNP horses were distinctly different from 48 major horse breeds. Heterozygosity, mean number of alleles, and other measures of diversity indicated that TRNP herd diversity was below that observed for most other feral herds and domestic breeds. Both mtDNA and STRs demonstrated that the existing genetic data sets of horses are insufficient to determine the exact origins of the TRNP horses. However, measures of nuclear and mitochondrial diversity have elucidated management needs. It is recommended that new genetic stock be introduced and that adaptive management principles are employed to ensure that unique mitochondrial lineages are preserved and genetic diversity is increased and maintained over time.
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Ovtchinnikov, Igor V.; Dahms, Taryn; Herauf, Billie; McCann, Blake; Juras, Rytis; Castaneda, Caitlin; and Cothran, E. Gus, "Genetic diversity and origin of the feral horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park" (2018). Biology Faculty Publications. 23.