The genetic rescue of the Florida panther


Correspondence: Stuart L. Pimm, Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Duke University, NC 27708, USA. Tel: +1(919) 613 8141


We examine the consequences of panthers introduced from Texas into south Florida, an area housing a small, isolated, inbred and distinct subspecies (Puma concolor coryi). Once part of a continuous, widespread population, panthers became isolated in south Florida more than a century ago. Numbers declined and the occurrence of genetic defects increased. Hoping to reverse the genetic damage, managers introduced eight female panthers from Texas into south Florida in the mid-1990s. This action was highly controversial and we explain the arguments for and against the intervention. We synthesized data systematically collected on the Florida panthers from before, during and after this management intervention. These data include information on movements, breeding, mortality, survivorship and range. There is no evidence that purebred Florida females produce fewer kittens at a later age or less often than do hybrid cats (i.e. those with a Texas ancestor). Hybrid kittens have about a three times higher chance of becoming adults as do purebred ones. Hybrid adult females survive better than purebred females; there is no obvious difference between the males. Males die younger than females, are more often killed by other males and are more likely to disperse longer distances into habitats that are dangerous to them. Hybrids are expanding the known range of habitats panthers occupy and use.