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Research suggests fitness of Florida panthers improved by limited breeding with Texas animals

DURHAM, N.C. -- The number of living Florida panthers has grown from a previously estimated 30 to a recently counted 87 as a result of a controversial breeding effort to improve the genetic health of the endangered and inbred animals, according to a new assessment.

Hybrid kittens born to panthers brought into the area from Texas have "about a three times higher chance of becoming adults as do purebred ones," reports a paper planned for publication in January 2006 in the British journal Animal Conservation. "Hybrids are expanding the known range of habitats panthers occupy and use," the paper adds.

In view of the paper's importance for management decisions, its authors and the journal's editors agreed to make the full text available now, said Stuart Pimm of Duke University, the principal author.

"There are hugely difficult controversies that I'm certain will erupt as soon as the paper is published," Pimm, the Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, said in an interview.

"A lot of scientists said this kind of genetic rescue would not work. They said if a species is rare, and its range is restricted, just adding individuals from the outside is not going to work. Some thought it would be a waste of time, a waste of money."

Pimm was himself skeptical about the success of such a rescue attempt in his 1991 book, "The Balance of Nature? Ecological issues in the conservation of species and communities." He acknowledged in his interview and in the new paper that "I was wrong."

The paper's other authors are Luke Dollar, a doctoral student in Pimm's research group, and Oron "Sonny" Bass, Jr., a biologist who has studied panthers at Florida's Everglades National Park for nearly 20 years.

The research was funded by a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

The authors extensively reviewed the locations and movements of both purebred and hy
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Contact: Monte Basgall
monte.basgall@duke.edu
919-681-8057
Duke University
18-Aug-2005


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