Wild American Bison are captive?

I think this is a reasonable enough definition of “wild” versus “captive/cultivated” for animals. Plants might be a little different due differences in life history between plants and animals (i.e., motility, autotroph versus heterotroph).

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I believe the definitions were set up as a starting point, not a dogmatic rule.

Additionally, the definition of captive vs. wild also mentions:

Wild

  • zebra in the Serengeti (assuming it’s not in a zoo in the Serengeti)*

as well as:

  • garden plant that is reproducing on its own and spreading outside of the intended gardening area*

Since the Serengeti is a managed National Park in Tanzania, the arguments about all zebra in the Serengeti being captive would be opposed here as well.

Which I believe applies to bison breeding and leaving the managed Yellowstone NP herd.

I think the debate over complex cases such as this, is the important thing, since it gets us all thinking about what truly is wild vs. captive, a debate which I do not think will ever be resolved by the way!

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Then let us take this concept to the current argument about trees.

The first rule of iNat is “assume that people mean no harm”. Regardless, recategorization is not deletion.

Yes, because these are terms with many different interpretations in many contexts. Not so much, because these are terms with specific(ish) operational definitions in iNat and the vagueness of their meanings in the wider world is irrelevant to the iNat definitions. iNat’s definitions are not pointlessly arbitrary; they reflect an effort to maintain consistency in time series of observational data.

For what it’s worth, I don’t have a beef with @raymie’s project. There are many (many,many) herds of bison in North America and almost none of them are wild by the iNat definition. Getting those into the correct category is not “obnoxious”. That there are some very large instances that test the definition of captive/wild in iNat is interesting and useful for sharpening iNat’s definitions (to the extent that concerns about data integrity allow).

There is no unitary definition of wildness and the modern, Western conception of it as something beautiful and pure that exists beyond the borders of civilization is at 180 degrees from the Western generally accepted conception of wilderness that prevailed a couple of centuries ago. The notion that the world is separated into bits that are tainted by human involvement and those that are somehow more pure (in the modern consensus) or more dangerous (in the older sense of the term) is an artifact of the belief that humans are fundamentally different and apart from the natural world. That foolish conceit was led to all sorts of problems, of which squabbling on iNat is a minor example.

iNat needs to do a better job of explaining why the definitions exist. Seems to me that the unceasing stream of discussion about the meaning of wildness, some of it heated, testifies to the need to do something about both the communty’s understanding of the need for these defintitions and the way they influence data categorization.

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The Serengeti isn’t fenced, the animals in it can leave.

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I don’t know what this comment is referring to exactly.

I didn’t say they were arbitrary, but somewhat (by necessity) vague.

Good point, I’d lost sight that your point was the fencing/intention, not management or protection itself per se.

You can read any topic about planted trees if you’re interested in more arguments about weird stuff.)

In an effort to move towards some kind of consensus, I’ve created a survey to evaluate various criteria that could be used for determining wild vs. captive status on iNaturalist: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/survey-about-criteria-for-wild-captive-observations/27007

Understood. I mostly agree with what you had to say. I just think it’s important to keep the context - iNat’s definitions - clearly in focus. They exist for reasons that makes messing with them problematic. No definition is ever going to get rid of the essential fuzziness of the word wild and it’s important that the definitions we use remain constant if we don’t want to render the data useless.

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A lot of useful concepts are, necessarily, vague. Consider definitions of species, for example, or gene. Basically, the less you know the easier these are to define. But we need these words and use them often. Similar problem/reality with wild vs. captive/cultivated.

(I’d mark the bison in Yellowstone and Wind Cave as wild.)

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OK so I’m a very late comer to this conversation, but I feel this question goes much deeper. I did some heavy scrolling through bits of this, so if this has come up earlier I apologize. However, there are no true bison in SD that I’m aware of. If we dig down to mDNA, all the bison in SD are part bovine right? Sure they are bison, but still just a little bit cow. I studied wasps, so this is a bit or of a reach, but it seems to me, outside of Yellowstone, bison don’t exist. Perhaps there they are functionally extinct. But then again I can’t give a definition for a species that will make everyone happy… I say fences don’t matter, but DNA doesn’t lie.

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It was brought up somewhere in those discussions, people also not really clear in their dna, so as long as species functions as it was before it doesn’t matter too much, plus this “foreign” dna will get less and less prominent with generations.

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A little (6%?) cattle DNA in bison makes no difference. The animals look like bison, act like bison, breed with bison. A few great-great-great-great-great-grandparents bred with cattle and some of their offspring bred with bison and their offspring bred with bison, etc. The present animals are bison. And, as @melodi_96 said, the percent cattle DNA will probably decline further with generations.

Calling bison with a tiny amount of cattle DNA “not bison” is like calling modern humans “not human” because our ancestors bred with neandertals and/or dennisonvians. It’s true (the DNA doesn’t lie) but taxonomically it’s trivial.

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That being said, it will likely never disappear entirely. The human experience you cited covers thousands of times more generations, yet a measurable amount persists.

Unless there is a reproductive disadvantage to it being in the genome, it likely will be there in some amount for as long as bison persist.

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@cmcheatle – You are, of course, correct.

But our long-ago ancestors, presumably, chose to mate with Neanderthals and Denisovans. Bison being deliberately hybridized with cattle is more like if some twisted person forced a human to mate with a chimp. It was an act of violence against their species. The cattle genes in today’s bison are essentially our territorial marker on them, showing our presumed ownership of the species.

There is more than one kind of captivity.

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It could be that the females in the matings of humans and closely related species didn’t choose. Taxonomically, though, it doesn’t matter for humans or bison.

(It’s not clear to me that the bison/cattle matings in the history of the Wind River bison herd were brought about by humans. True, humans have bred cattle to bison to produce new beef breeds, but bison and cattle are capable of being indescriminent on their own, as well.)

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@jasonhernandez74

But our long-ago ancestors, presumably, chose to mate with Neanderthals and Denisovans. Bison being deliberately hybridized with cattle is more like if some twisted person forced a human to mate with a chimp. It was an act of violence against their species. The cattle genes in today’s bison are essentially our territorial marker on them, showing our presumed ownership of the species.

IIRC bison and cattle will naturally hybridize in the wild if allowed to cohabitate, much in the same way as the various Canis species (e.g., coyote/gray wolf/red wolf/jackals) will with each other. Indeed, most of the Bos/Bison species are known to interbreed with each other at the edges of their various ranges. Wisent (Bison bonasus) have even been suggested to have arisen through hybridogenesis, but this is still controversial. Many mammalian species complexes will do this, which can make reconstructing taxonomy and phylogeny a bit tricky.

Most of the cattle genes in bison likely arose from wild bison freely hybridizing with escaped or semiferal Bos taurus, at first probably feral individuals from the cattle the Spanish brought over (some of the Iberian-descended breeds like the Texas longhorn had a phase of about three centuries of living an outright feral existence with almost no human interference from ~1500 to ~1700-1800 before being recaptured). Then, as Anglo settlers moved further west, you still had cattle escaping from captivity and becoming feral (this was a known issue in places like Wyoming). Bison-cattle crossbreeds are known as far back as 1749, whereas intentional cross-breeding in captivity didn’t happen for another century.

Additionally, I would bet that a lot of this hybridization comes from the period where bison herds were decimated and nearly driven to extinction (i.e., late 19th century), given in those scenarios bison had few options for mates and thus might be more likely to mate with unusual partners, similar to what wildlife biologists have documented for Canis spp. and what has been suggested for the Neanderthals. This is mostly based on the fact that most of these herds are descended from a few individuals captured during that time. The linked genetic analysis also suggests the cattle ancestry mostly stems from the founder effect: a couple of bison had some cattle ancestry and because the extant population had a very small number of founders (~50 for all of the herds outside Yellowstone, and then another ~50 for Yellowstone), and thus backcrossing spread their genes throughout the population.

Notably, even though humans have bred “beefalo” in captivity, most of these enterprises were rather gimmicky and the animals remained in captivity. Allen even mentions in some of these cases that bison and domestic cattle would eagerly breed on their own in captivity. Indeed, most ranchers actually want bison nowhere near their animals, because they fear they could act as vectors for brucellosis (the evidence is…debatable) or because they could disrupt the careful management and breeding of their animals. It’s not impossible, but highly unlikely that the cattle genes in wild bison (or, in the context of this discussion, the herds in the various parks and preserves) are intentional.

Thus, this statement is unintentionally inaccurate at best, or deliberately framing things in a sensationalist manner to try and push a particular conclusion at worst (i.e., describing hybridization as “an act of violence against the species”, when humans may not even have been involved). If anything, our own species’ obsession with maintaining genetic purity of a lineage when many species freely hybridize when they get the chance, seemingly ignoring the idea of a consistent species concept, could be described as equally hubristic.

@cmcheatle

That being said, it will likely never disappear entirely. The human experience you cited covers thousands of times more generations, yet a measurable amount persists.

Unless there is a reproductive disadvantage to it being in the genome, it likely will be there in some amount for as long as bison persist.

Interestingly, it’s kind of mixed. Bison with cattle ancestry anecdotally exhibit lower levels of aggression than wild pure bison. “Beefalo” definitely do, but it’s not 100% clear if bison that have 1% cattle ancestry do (e.g., like the Custer State Park Herd). The suggestion has been that bison with cattle ancestry are less likely to win in dominance disputes and thus less likely to breed, but at the same time might thrive because they are easier to transport or less likely to get in trouble. Plus, in the initial capture of the last remaining wild bison in the 19th century for captive breeding, animals with hybrid ancestry would have been more likely to survive. This may be why the genes aren’t completely selected out.

I’ve heard similar concerns from zoo scientists that captive populations of many animals (e.g., big cats, wolves, bears, ungulates, etc.) are likely artificially selected for increased “tameness”, because non-tame individuals don’t adapt well to captivity. This has raised concerns whether individuals involved in captive breeding programs can be used to repopulate the species at all, because they’ve gone through a selective bottleneck and have potentially lost some of their aggression.

@pmeisenheimer

The first rule of iNat is “assume that people mean no harm”. Regardless, recategorization is not deletion.

Check the comments of the person this was said in response to. The user explicitly said doing so would be ‘useful for making a point about today’s concept of “conservation".’

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It was that. I was unaware of the history of natural hybridization, but I knew about “beefalo” (and zebroids, and tiglons/ligers, and even “mules” of the avian kind, i.e. canary x greenfinch). I chalked it up to the human penchant for novelty and “improving” on nature.

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You don’t know that the mating was consensual so cmcheatle’s point is still salient (although this discussion has devolved into semantics).

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