Conservation Genetics

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 37–48 | Cite as

Low Genetic Variation in the Heath Hen Prior to Extinction and Implications for the Conservation of Prairie-Chicken Populations

  • Jeff A. Johnson
  • Peter O. Dunn


Low genetic variation is often considered to contribute to the extinction of species when they reach small population sizes. In this study we examined the mitochondrial control region from museum specimens of the Heath Hen (Tympanuchus cupido cupido), which went extinct in 1932. Today, the closest living relatives of the Heath Hen, the Greater (T. c. pinnatus), Attwater’s (T. c. attwateri) and Lesser (T. pallidicinctus) Prairie-chicken, are declining throughout most of their range in Midwestern North America, and loss of genetic variation is a likely contributor to their decline. Here we show that 30 years prior to their extinction, Heath Hens had low levels of mitochondrial genetic variation when compared with contemporary populations of prairie-chickens. Furthermore, some current populations of Greater Prairie-chickens are isolated and losing genetic variation due to drift. We estimate that these populations will reach the low levels of genetic variation found in Heath Hens within the next 40 years. Genetic variation and fitness can be restored with translocation of individuals from other populations; however, we also show that choosing an appropriate source population for translocation can be difficult without knowledge of historic population bottlenecks and their effect on genetic structure.


effective population size extinction genetic drift grouse Heath Hen mtDNA control region population genetic variability 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeMilwaukeeUSA
  2. 2.Museum of ZoologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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