The research topics worked on in the zoos of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle mainly relate to conservation biology and veterinary sciences. However, Haute-Touche carries out a large amount of fundamental work thanks to a small dedicated team and its laboratory. Our programmes are also carried out in close collaboration with the region and a number of scientific institutions.
Genetic studies aim to define which subspecies an individual belongs to and their family relationships within a captive population. These studies make it possible to establish the identity of the breeders, avoid inbreeding and therefore preserve the population’s genetic diversity.
The Haute Touche research team studies the reproductive physiology of wild mammals (gestation endocrinology, ovarian cycles, folliculogenesis, embryonic development, etc.) and develops assisted reproduction techniques (artificial insemination, in vitro fertilisation, embryo transfer, cryopreservation) in order to facilitate the carrying-out of conservation programmes in the long run.
As a first step, the team sought to demonstrate the viability of embryos produced in vitro in a red deer. In 2004, the first fawns born from in vitro fertilisation of ova with frozen sperm and the subsequent transfer of cryopreserved embryos to surrogate mothers were obtained by the laboratory (Locatelli et al. 2004). Subsequently, the laboratory has demonstrated that surrogate mothers from a closely related species can be used to receive embryos produced in vitro: a red deer mother gives birth to a Sika deer (Locatelli et al. 2008).
At this point, our project involves refining our knowledge in these areas of technology and applying it to some of the most endangered wildlife species.
For example, these biotechnologies could facilitate the reintroduction of the Formosan Sika deer, a very rare species endemic to the island of Taiwan. By producing and transferring embryos of this species to Sika surrogate mothers from Japan, a closely related but more common species, the Reserve team will be able to produce a larger Formosan sika population, boosting the potential for possible reintroductions.
The research team specialises in:
- the production and preservation of male gametes, the management of female cycles (synchronisation of oestrus and ovulation);
- the implementation of hormone assays in relation to the study of behaviour (measuring faecal steroids to determine the cycle durations of different species);
- the production of quality oocytes for the in vitro production of embryos, mastering techniques for freezing these embryos, their thawing and the interspecies transfer to compatible recipient females;
- gonadal tissue (ovaries and testes) cryobiology and in vitro gametogenesis.
In addition to the regular care that they provide the park’s animals with and the prevention of health risks, the Reserve’s vets conduct studies to improve knowledge of medicine specific to wild fauna. This research helps to improve understanding of certain pathologies, take more effective action and determine the optimal treatments for wild fauna.
Behavioural studies and behavioural ecology
Studying and improving knowledge of the behaviour of a species are vital for helping us ensure their well-being. Beyond the animal itself, we also study the way it interacts with other animals of its species and with the environment. Our studies focus on maternal behaviour (interactions between the mother and offspring), communication in mammals (studies of vocalisations in deer, dholes and wild boar), establishment of dominance (wolves and dholes) epizoochory (transportation of seeds by the animal) or feeding behaviour.
Several programmes have been developed:
- maternal behaviour in deer (COCERO Regional Programme) in Collaboration with INRA PRC and the Centre Region;
- the spatial preference(s) of wolves with the aim of optimising natural behaviours;
- the comparative approach to vocalisation ontogeny in deer (Collaboration with the University of Sussex, D.Reby);
- epizoochory in ungulates (COSTAUD Regional Programme, IRSTEA collaboration);
- the social behaviour of baboons and monitoring a group over several years;
- the feeding behaviour of lemurs.
The Reserve is a partner of or collaborator in zooarchaeology research programmes (wild boar, dholes).
For decades zooarchaeologists have been trying to use archaeological remains to document the first stages of the animal domestication process but with little success. The ANR Domexp project (coordinated by CNRS and MNHN) aims to identify new bone markers associated with the early stages of wild boar domestication. To do this, we study the consequences of mobility on the development of the musculoskeletal system. The biomarkers identified will then be used by the zooarchaeologist to determine the bone fragments that come from animals reared by humans at the very beginning of the domestication process. A significant part of the team (veterinarians and caregivers) is involved in this project.
Zooarchaeologists from the University of Bordeaux 1 (UMR PACEA) pay special attention to our dholes. The team is seeking to clarify the past distribution of dholes in Europe. Indeed, there is evidence that suggests that the dhole was present in France (Pleistocene). Using bone accumulations (meal remains) taken from zooarchaeological sites, the objective is to confirm the presence of dholes for these periods by comparing these ancient samples with the meal remains of the various carnivores in our collection, including the dhole, of course.