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Microsatellite analysis of North American wapiti (Cervus elaphus) populations


Dr R. O. Polziehn. Fax: 1-780-492-9234; E-mail:


Eleven populations of wapiti (Cervus elaphus) were analysed for genetic diversity using 12 microsatellite loci. Samples were taken from Vancouver Island, British Columbia; Burwash and French River herds in Ontario; Ya Ha Tinda Ranch, Alberta; and Banff, Elk Island, Jasper, Kootenay, Riding Mountain, Yellowstone and Yoho National Parks. Overall, wapiti populations have on average three to four alleles per locus and an average expected heterozygosity that ranged from 25.75 to 52.85%. The greatest genetic distances were observed between the Vancouver population and all other populations. Using the assignment test, Roosevelt wapiti (C. e. roosevelti Merriam 1897) assigned only to the Vancouver Island population. The distance and assignment values suggest a divergence of the Roosevelt wapiti from other populations and support the subspecific status for the Vancouver Island population. No evidence was found for the existence of unique Eastern wapiti (C. e. canadensis Erxleben 1777) in the Burwash or French River herds in Ontario. The overlapping distribution of genotypes from indigenous populations from Riding Mountain, Elk Island and Yellowstone National Parks suggests that wapiti were once a continuous population before settlers decimated their numbers. The lack of differentiation between these populations raises questions about the status of Manitoban (C. e.manitobensis Millais 1915) and Rocky Mountain (C. e.nelsoni Bailey 1935) subspecies.

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