Research Article

Conservation Genetics

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 1111-1121

Genetic rescue in Isle Royale wolves: genetic analysis and the collapse of the population

  • Philip W. HedrickAffiliated withSchool of Life Sciences, Arizona State University Email author 
  • , Rolf O. PetersonAffiliated withSchool of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University
  • , Leah M. VucetichAffiliated withSchool of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University
  • , Jennifer R. AdamsAffiliated withDepartment of Fish and Wildlife Resources, University of Idaho
  • , John A. VucetichAffiliated withSchool of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University

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Abstract

While genetic rescue is known to benefit population viability, the duration of that benefit is poorly understood. We document what appears to be the waning benefit of genetic rescue after approximately 2–3 generations for the wolf population in Isle Royale National Park. The fitness benefit of genetic rescue declined because of inbreeding and population abundance declined when the inbred individuals exhibited low reproduction and survival. Only detailed studies of other cases will reveal what aspects of these dynamics represent general features of genetic rescue. We also present evidence indicating that numerous past immigration events have likely gone undetected. This finding is of particular significance because the Isle Royale wolf population has maintained good population viability for decades even though it was small and thought to be isolated from the mainland population of wolves. Past gene flow also suggests that human-assisted gene flow is necessary to conserve the ecosystem services associated with predation, since climate warming has reduced the frequency of ice bridges and with it the only opportunity for unassisted gene flow.

Keywords

Ancestry Gene flow Heterozygosity Inbreeding Pedigree Relatedness