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Keywords:

  • captive breeding programmes;
  • conservation genetics;
  • DNA marker;
  • mating systems;
  • pedigree reconstruction;
  • wild founders

Abstract

There is increasing interest in the use of molecular genetic data to infer genealogical relationships among individuals in the absence of parental information. Such analyses can provide insight into mating systems and estimations of heritability in the wild. In addition, accurate pedigree reconstruction among the founders of endangered populations being reared in captivity would be invaluable. Many breeding programs for endangered species attempt to minimize loss of genetic variation and inbreeding through strategies designed to minimize global co-ancestry, but they assume a lack of relatedness among the founders. Yet populations that are the target of such programs are generally in serious demographic decline, and many of the available founders may be closely related. Here we demonstrate determination of full and half-sib relationships among the wild founders of a captive breeding program involving two endangered Atlantic salmon populations using two different approaches and associated software, pedigree and colony. A large portion of the juveniles collected in these two rivers appear to be derived from surprisingly few females mating with a large number of males, probably small precocious parr. Another group of potential founders, obtained from a local hatchery, clearly originated from a small number of full-sib crosses. These results allowed us to prioritize individuals on the basis of conservation value, and are expected to help minimize loss of genetic variation through time. In addition, insight is provided into the number of contributing parents and the mating systems that produced this last generation of endangered wild Atlantic salmon.