• assignment test;
  • California;
  • colonization;
  • metapopulation;
  • microsatellites;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • Ovis canadensis;
  • translocation

ABSTRACT  Understanding colonization is vital for managing fragmented populations. We employed mitochondrial DNA haplotypes and 14 microsatellite (nuclear DNA) markers to infer the origins of newly established populations of desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) and to assess loss of genetic diversity during natural colonizations. We used haplotype distribution, F-statistics, Bayesian population clustering, and assignment tests to infer source populations for 3 recent colonies and identified a previously undetected colonization from multiple source populations. Allelic richness declined in 3 of 4 colonies in comparison to the primary source populations, but not as much as has been reported for translocated populations. Heterozygosity declined in only one colony. We also demonstrated that both native and translocated desert bighorn sheep have naturally recolonized empty habitats and suggest that colonization may partially offset population extinction in the region as long as connectivity is maintained. Genetic techniques and mitochondrial DNA haplotypes we described will allow managers to determine the origins of future colonizations by bighorn sheep in California, USA, and prioritize protection of linkages between known sources and colonies.