Genetic consequences of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) restoration in Mississippi


Randy W. DeYoung. Fax: 662-325-8726; E-mail:


White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) were nearly extirpated from the southeastern USA during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Recovery programmes, including protection of remnant native stocks and transplants from other parts of the species’ range, were initiated in the early 1900s. The recovery programmes were highly successful and deer are presently numerous and continuously distributed throughout the southeastern USA. However, the impact of the recovery programmes on the present genetic structure of white-tailed deer remains to be thoroughly investigated. We used 17 microsatellite DNA loci to assess genetic differentiation and diversity for 543 white-tailed deer representing 16 populations in Mississippi and three extra-state reference populations. There was significant genetic differentiation among all populations and the majority of genetic variation (≥ 93%) was contained within populations. Patterns of genetic structure, genetic similarity and isolation by distance within Mississippi were not concordant with geographical proximity of populations or subspecies delineations. We detected evidence of past genetic bottlenecks in nine of the 19 populations examined. However, despite experiencing genetic bottlenecks or founder events, allelic diversity and heterozygosity were uniformly high in all populations. These exceeded reported values for other cervid species that experienced similar population declines within the past century. The recovery programme was successful in that deer were restored to their former range while maintaining high and uniform genetic variability. Our results seem to confirm the importance of rapid population expansion and habitat continuity in retaining genetic variation in restored populations. However, the use of diverse transplant stocks and the varied demographic histories of populations resulted in fine-scale genetic structuring.