Microsatellite variation in the reintroduced Pennsylvania elk herd


Christen Williams. Present address: National Wildlife Research Center, 4101 LaPorte Ave, Fort Collins, CO 80521, USA. Fax: (970) 266–6138; E-mail: Christen.L.Williams@aphis.usda.gov


Relocation programs have restored elk (Cervus elaphus) to portions of its vast historical range. We examine the consequences of these relocation programs by assessing variation at 10 microsatellite loci in three elk herds, a source herd (Yellowstone National Park), a large herd reintroduced from Yellowstone (Custer State Park) and a bottlenecked herd reintroduced from both Yellowstone and Custer (the Pennsylvania herd). Observed single locus heterozygosities ranged from 0.000 to 0.739. Multi-locus heterozygosities ranged from 0.222 to 0.589. Although significant differences were detected among all three herds, the Yellowstone National Park and Custer State Park herds possessed similar levels of variation and heterozygosity, and the genetic distance between these two herds was small. The Pennsylvania herd, on the other hand, experienced a 61.5% decrease in heterozygosity relative to its source herds, possessed no unique and few rare alleles, and the genetic distances between the Pennsylvania herd and its sources were large. Simulations were performed to identify bottleneck scenarios in agreement with levels of variation in the Pennsylvania herd. Our data confirm that the rate of population growth post-relocation may have important genetic consequences and indicate that theoretical predictions regarding the maintenance of genetic variation during relocation events must be viewed with caution when small numbers of a polygynous species are released.