, Volume 40, Issue 7, pp 772-781

Population-Genetic Structure of Beaver (Castor fiber L., 1758) Communities and Estimation of Effective Reproductive Size N e of an Elementary Population

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Abstract

The absence of panmixia at all hierarchical levels of the European beaver communities down to individual families implies a complex organization of the population-genetic structures of the species, in particular, a large intergroup component of gene diversity in the populations. Testing this assumption by analysis of 39 allozyme loci in the communities of reintroduced beaver from the Vyatka river basin (Kirov oblast) has shown that only the beaver colonies exhibit high intergroup gene diversity (G st = 0.32) whereas this parameter is much lower when estimated among beaver groups from individual Vyatka River tributaries and among localities of one of the tributaries (0.07 and 0.11, respectively). The data suggesting genetic heterogeneity among individual settles within colonies have been obtained. The factors affecting the structure of the beaver communities of the lower hierarchical ranks are considered: the common origin, founder effect, selection, gene drift, assortative mating, and social and behavior features of the species. The conclusion is drawn that the founder effect could be the primary factor of population differentiation only at the time of their formation. The heterogeneity among colonies and among settles is maintained largely by isolation of colonies from one another. The strong interspecific competition for food resources, which is behaviorally implemented in the species at the level of minimal structural units (individual settles) creates a profound and unique population-genetic subdivision of the species. These results substantiate the suggestion that an elementary population (micropopulation) of European beaver is a colony, i.e., a set of related settles of different types. Based on ecological and genetic parameters, the effective reproductive size N e of the minimum beaver population was estimated to be equal to three animals. This extremely low value of effective reproductive population size largely explains the high tolerance of European beaver to inbreeding and striking viability of the species, which from the early 19th century has been for more than hundred years on the brink of survival in the condition which would made any other mammalian species vanish from the Earth.