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Patterns of genetic variation in US federal bison herds

Authors


Natalie D. Halbert, Fax: 979-845-9972; E-mail: nhalbert@cvm.tamu.edu

Abstract

Like many wide-ranging mammals, American bison (Bison bison) have experienced significant range contraction over the past two centuries and are maintained in artificially isolated populations. A basic understanding of the distribution of genetic variation among populations is necessary to facilitate long-term germplasm preservation and species conservation. The 11 herds maintained within the US federal system are a critically important source of germplasm for bison conservation, as they include many of the oldest herds in the USA and have served as a primary resource for the establishment of private and public herds worldwide. In this study, we used a panel of 51 nuclear markers to investigate patterns of neutral genetic variation among these herds. Most of these herds have maintained remarkably high levels of variation despite the severe bottleneck suffered in the late 1800s. However, differences were noted in the patterns of variation and levels of differentiation among herds, which were compared with historical records of establishment, supplementation, herd size, and culling practices. Although some lineages have been replicated across multiple herds within the US federal system, other lineages with high levels of genetic variation exist in isolated herds and should be considered targets for the establishment of satellite herds. From this and other studies, it is clear that the genetic variation represented in the US federal system is unevenly distributed among National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service herds, and that these resources must be carefully managed to ensure long-term species conservation.

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