The power of genetic monitoring for studying demography, ecology and genetics of a reintroduced brown bear population

Authors


Marta De Barba, Fax: (208) 885 9080; E-mail: mdebarba@uidaho.edu

Abstract

Genetic monitoring has rarely been used for wildlife translocations despite the potential benefits this approach offers, compared to traditional field-based methods. We applied genetic monitoring to the reintroduced brown bear population in northern Italy. From 2002 to 2008, 2781 hair and faecal samples collected noninvasively plus 12 samples obtained from captured or dead bears were used to follow the demographic and geographical expansion and changes in genetic composition. Individual genotypes were used to reconstruct the wild pedigree and revealed that the population increased rapidly, from nine founders to >27 individuals in 2008 (λ = 1.17–1.19). Spatial mapping of bear samples indicated that most bears were distributed in the region surrounding the translocation site; however, individual bears were found up to 163 km away. Genetic diversity in the population was high, with expected heterozygosity of 0.74–0.79 and allelic richness of 4.55–5.41. However, multi-year genetic monitoring data showed that mortality rates were elevated, immigration did not occur, one dominant male sired all cubs born from 2002 to 2005, genetic diversity declined, relatedness increased, inbreeding occurred, and the effective population size was extremely small (Ne = 3.03, ecological method). The comprehensive information collected through genetic monitoring is critical for implementing future conservation plans for the brown bear population in the Italian Alps. This study provides a model for other reintroduction programmes by demonstrating how genetic monitoring can be implemented to uncover aspects of the demography, ecology and genetics of small and reintroduced populations that will advance our understanding of the processes influencing their viability, evolution, and successful restoration.

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