November 15, 2016

Porcupines of the Rio Grande

Posted by larryohanlon

Across 350 kilometers of the The Middle Rio Grande River students and their teachers from kindergarten through college serve as field scientists for the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP). Bosque means ‘forest’ in Spanish, and refers to the vast cottonwood forest that straddles the Rio Grande. Currently there are 32 study sites, and over 1 million data points are collected each year by many local students who would otherwise have limited access to environmental education. This Albuquerque-based program shows how local science initiatives can connect people to their landscapes while helping inform resource management decisions.


Bosque School science teacher Dan Shaw with students, trapping and collaring a porcupine.

By Katie Elder

Bosque School student Sarah (’17) and Delaney (Amy Biehl HS ’17) are partnering with the University of New Mexico Biology Department and  the National Center for Genome Resources to study porcupine genetics in the Albuquerque Bosque. Over the past 13 years, Dan Shaw, BEMP Co-Director and Bosque School Wildlife Biology Faculty, and his students have been capturing and radio collaring porcupines in the bosque adjacent to Bosque School. Quill samples were collected from every porcupine that students caught, relocated, or collected (if deceased). Thus far, about 90 quill samples have been collected. Quills are modified hairs that are easily detached when the porcupine smacks its body into something. Contrary to popular belief, a porcupine cannot “shoot” its quills as a defensive strategy.

Sarah, a senior at Bosque School.

Sarah, a senior at Bosque School in Albuquerque.

Delaney, a junior at Amy Biehl High School in Albuquerque

Delaney, a senior at Amy Biehl High School in Albuquerque

Sarah and Delaney are in the process of extracting DNA from the quills and analyzing the genetic relatedness of the porcupines in the bosque. This data gives us information on gene flow within the population and can indicate whether inbreeding is occurring. This work is highly advanced and Sarah and Delaney have been tackling it masterfully. They plan on presenting their work at multiple scientific conferences since the methods that they are using are rigorous and groundbreaking. There are very few studies on porcupines in the southwest so their project is adding significant insights about these wonderfully weird creatures.

Katie Elder is the BEMP Student Research Projects Coordinator

This and other BEMP posts can be found at the BEMPin’ It Up blog