Conservation Genetics

, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 389–399 | Cite as

Genotypic and phenotypic consequences of reintroduction history in the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes)

  • Samantha M. WiselyEmail author
  • Rachel M. Santymire
  • Travis M. Livieri
  • Sara A. Mueting
  • JoGayle Howard
Research Article


Population augmentation with translocated individuals has been shown to alleviate the effects of bottlenecks and drift. The first step to determine whether restoration for genetic considerations is warranted is to genetically monitor reintroduced populations and compare results to those from the source. To assess the need for genetic restoration, we evaluated genetic diversity and structure of reintroduced (n = 3) and captive populations of the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes). We measured genotypic changes among populations using seven microsatellite markers and compared phenotypic changes with eight morphometric characters. Results indicated that for the population which rapidly grew post-reintroduction, genetic diversity was equivalent to the captive, source population. When growth languished, only the population that was augmented yearly maintained diversity. Without augmentation, allelic diversity declined precipitously and phenotypic changes were apparent. Ferrets from the genetically depaupertate population had smaller limbs and smaller overall body size than ferrets from the two populations with greater diversity. Population divergence (F ST = 0.10 ± 0.01) was surprisingly high given the common source of populations. Thus, it appears that 5–10 years of isolation resulted in both genotypic divergence and phenotypic changes to populations. We recommend translocation of 30–40 captive individuals per annum to reintroduction sites which have not become established quickly. This approach will maximize the retention of genetic diversity, yet maintain the beneficial effects of local adaptation without being swamped by immigration.


Genetic monitoring Genetic restoration Population bottleneck Reintroduction Translocation 



All animal handling was authorized and coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Black-Footed Ferret Recovery Implementation Team. Animal handling protocols were reviewed and authorized by Kansas State University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (protocol no. 2310). The authors thank M. Lockhart and P. Marinari of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; B. Van Pelt, C. King, S. Goodman, R. Lonsinger, J. Broescher, and A. Siniawski of Arizona Game and Fish; B. Oakleaf and M. Grenier of Wyoming Game and Fish Department; B. Perry and D. Sargent of USDA Forest Service, D. Albertson, G. Schroeder and B. Kenner of the National Park Service for accommodating us in the field. We thank the many additional people who volunteered their time to help survey for black-footed ferrets. We also thank D. Garelle of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo; E. Bronson of National Zoological Park, K. Orr of Phoenix Zoo, C. Eng, J. Bachtel, H. Mutlow, D. Gaspar, and J. Kreeger for veterinary services. Phoenix Zoo, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Division of Biology at Kansas State University, and Friends of the National Zoo provided financial support for this research. We thank M. Schwartz and anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samantha M. Wisely
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rachel M. Santymire
    • 2
    • 3
  • Travis M. Livieri
    • 4
  • Sara A. Mueting
    • 1
  • JoGayle Howard
    • 5
  1. 1.Division of BiologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  2. 2.Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, Lincoln Park ZooChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of Reproductive Science, Conservation & Research CenterSmithsonian’s National Zoological ParkFront RoyalUSA
  4. 4.Prairie Wildlife ResearchWellingtonUSA
  5. 5.Department of Reproductive SciencesSmithsonian’s National Zoological ParkWashingtonUSA

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