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Environmental Management

, Volume 64, Issue 5, pp 553–563 | Cite as

Managing Genetic Diversity and Extinction Risk for a Rare Plains Bison (Bison bison bison) Population

  • Seth G. CherryEmail author
  • Jerod A. Merkle
  • Marie Sigaud
  • Daniel Fortin
  • Greg A. Wilson
Article

Abstract

Unfenced plains bison are rare and only occur in a small number of locations throughout Canada and the United States. We examined management guidelines for maintenance of genetic health and population persistence for a small and isolated population of plains bison that occupy the interface between a protected national park and private agricultural lands. To address genetic health concerns, we measured genetic diversity relative to other populations and assessed the potential effects of genetic augmentation. We then used individual-based population viability analyses (PVA) to determine the minimum abundance likely to prevent genetic diversity declines. We assessed this minimum relative to a proposed maximum social carrying capacity related to bison use of human agricultural lands. We also used the PVA to assess the probability of population persistence given the limiting factors of predation, hunting, and disease. Our results indicate that genetic augmentation will likely be required to achieve genetic diversity similar to that of other plains bison populations. We also found that a minimum population of 420 bison yields low probability of additional genetic loss while staying within society-based maxima. Population estimates based on aerial surveys indicated that the population has been below this minimum since 2007. Our PVA simulations indicate that current hunting practices will result in undesirable levels of population extinction risk and further declines in genetic variability. Our study demonstrates that PVA can be used to evaluate potential management scenarios as they relate to long-term genetic conservation and population persistence for rare species.

Keywords

Genetic diversity Conservation Population thresholds Social carrying capacity Sustainable harvest 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Funding for this project was provided by the Parks Canada Agency Conservation and Restoration Program and Université Laval. Assistance with field work was provided by Joanne Watson and Becky Gillespie. In-kind contributions to field work were provided by the Sturgeon River Plains Bison Stewards. Todd Shury conducted bison captures. We thank anonymous reviewers that substantially improved the quality of our paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Copyright information

© Crown 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Parks Canada AgencyWaskesiuCanada
  2. 2.Département de Biologie and Centre d’Étude de la ForêtUniversité LavalQuébecCanada
  3. 3.Parks Canada AgencyFort SaskatchewanCanada
  4. 4.Parks Canada AgencyRadium Hot SpringsCanada
  5. 5.Department of Zoology and PhysiologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA

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