Conservation Genetics

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 393–404 | Cite as

Significance of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) ecotypes from a molecular genetics viewpoint

  • Réhaume CourtoisEmail author
  • Louis Bernatchez
  • Jean-Pierre Ouellet
  • Laurier Breton


Three caribou ecotypes are present in easternNorth America: the mountain caribou which isfound south of the St. Lawrence River, thebarren-ground caribou which calves in thetundra, and in between, the forest-dwellingecotype which lives all year long in the borealforest. Blood and muscle samples were collectedfrom seven populations and characterized ateight microsatellite loci to test thehypotheses that forest-dwelling andbarren-ground ecotypes constitute a singlemetapopulation and that geographical isolationresults in reduced genetic diversity. The meannumber of alleles per locus, allelic richness,and observed and expected heterozygositydeclined from north to south and were thesmallest in isolated forest-dwellingpopulations. Correspondence analysis showedthree groups of samples corresponding to thethree ecotypes. Gene flow estimates weremoderate or high among all forest-dwellingpopulations and particularly between those <200 km apart. Our results suggest that thethree caribou ecotypes represent three distinctgenetic entities and that the forest-dwellingpopulations in the continuous range form ametapopulation. Genetic diversity was lower inisolated populations but does not seem to be ofimmediate concern for conservation. We proposethat management strategies should favorincrease in caribou numbers in order to avoidextinction due to stochastic events and tomaintain local biodiversity. In the continuousrange, conservation strategies of cariboupopulations must be planned on a large scale tomaintain occasional exchanges betweenpopulations, thus preserving genetic diversity.

caribou ecotype genetic diversity metapopulation microsatellite loci 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Réhaume Courtois
    • 1
    Email author
  • Louis Bernatchez
    • 2
  • Jean-Pierre Ouellet
    • 3
  • Laurier Breton
    • 1
  1. 1.Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec, Direction de la recherche sur la faune, 675, boul. René-Lévesque, est (11e étage), Boîte 92, QuébecQuébecCanada
  2. 2.Département de biologie, Pavillon VachonUniversité LavalSainte-FoyCanada
  3. 3.Département de biologie, 300, Allée des UrsulinesUniversité du Québec à RimouskiRimouskiQuébec G5L 3A1, Canada

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