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Keywords:

  • Cervus elaphus;
  • elk;
  • genetic diversity;
  • population viability;
  • reintroduction;
  • restoration

Reintroduction of terrestrial vertebrates with the goal of ecosystem restoration typically establishes small and isolated populations that may experience reduced genetic variability due to founder effects and genetic drift. Understanding the genetic structure of these populations and maintaining adequate genetic diversity is important for long-term restoration success. We quantified genetic variability at six microsatellite loci for a reintroduced population of Cervus elaphus (elk) restored to the tallgrass prairie ecosystem of northeastern Kansas. Allelic richness, observed and expected heterozygosity were intermediate to levels reported in other North American elk populations. Current levels of genetic variability in restored North American elk populations were not well explained by founding population size, number of founding populations, or number of years since the last translocation. Simulation results suggest that the retention of genetic variability in isolated populations is strongly influenced by mating system while also being impacted by temporal variability in population size and population growth rate. Our results have implications for understanding how translocation strategies and post-reintroduction management may influence genetic variability in restored populations.