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Some re-established elk herds lack genetic diversity of ancestors

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Continued monitoring is central to maintaining genetic diversity, which is the key to long-term success of animal reintroduction programs, according to research at Purdue University.

A team of researchers found that elk relocated to depleted areas lost significant amounts of diversity when only a few individuals were introduced to a new area or herds were not managed appropriately. Their findings could aid in the design of future wildlife management programs.

"Any new reintroductions that are performed need to take into consideration that how you manage those animals after you relocate them is just as important as it is to put them there in the first place," said Gene Rhodes, Purdue wildlife geneticist.

"Despite the fact that elk have been moved all over the United States, no one has looked at the effects of those reintroductions. These studies add to a growing body of literature that deals with reintroductions in general, and the genetic results of reintroductions of large animals."

Elk once roamed across most of North America, but extensive hunting and habitat loss throughout the 1800s nearly wiped out the species from much of its range. In the late 1800s, wildlife managers began transporting elk from large, stable herds in western states to locations throughout Canada, Mexico and other parts of the United States with the goal of restoring elk to parts of its historic range.

Those reintroduction programs met with variable levels of success, and in one study, published in Molecular Ecology, Rhodes and his colleagues compared the genetics of a reintroduced herd in Pennsylvania with the genetics of its source herds in Wyoming and South Dakota. Pennsylvania elk were hunted to extinction by the late 1800s, and in the early 1900s, wildlife managers in Wyoming and Colorado began shipping elk by train to Pennsylvania where the animals were released in the hope of restoring the species.

In a second stud
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Contact: Jennifer Cutraro
jcutraro@purdue.edu
765-496-2050
Purdue University
10-Nov-2003


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