Cattle ancestry in bison: explanations for higher mtDNA than autosomal ancestry


Phil W. Hedrick, Fax: 01 480 965 0799; E-mail:


Understanding and documenting the process of hybridization and introgression between related species is a major focus of recent evolutionary research using molecular techniques. Many North American bison herds have cattle ancestry introduced by crossbreeding over a century ago. Molecular estimates of this ancestry have shown much higher levels for cattle mtDNA than for autosomal cattle genes. A large part of this difference appears to be the result of partial reproductive isolation between the two species where only bison bull × domestic cow crosses are successful, and all the surviving progeny are females. In addition, selection against autosomal cattle genes in bison may have contributed to differential levels of cattle ancestry. The impact of selection against cattle mtDNA and gene flow of bison mtDNA are examined to explain particular combinations of mtDNA and autosomal cattle ancestry. A bottleneck, after the level of cattle ancestry in bison was reduced to a low level, is consistent with the high variance over autosomal loci observed for cattle ancestry, and differential selection among cattle loci in bison does not need to be invoked. Further examination of the cattle genome in bison may shed light on whether these markers, or their associated regions, are indeed neutral.