Mexicans in the Mix

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Science  28 Jan 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5709, pp. 483
DOI: 10.1126/science.307.5709.483a

Wolves have probably suffered more persecution from humans than any other Northern Hemisphere predator. As a result, wolf populations in much of Europe and North America are highly fragmented and diminished. Population loss on this scale leads to loss of genetic diversity, which can pose problems for conservation managers attempting to reintroduce animals to areas from which they have been eliminated: lower genetic diversity can mean a decrease in reproductive potential and an increase in extinction risk. It has been suggested that the high mobility of wolves might have mitigated such loss, because of the genetic mixing that would have occurred in the preextermination populations.

Leonard et al. quantified the loss of diversity after the 20th-century extermination programs carried out in the United States by comparing the mitochondrial DNA of present-day North American grey wolves with those from museum specimens collected a century ago. It appears that the current populations in Canada and Alaska, from which wolves are being drawn for reintroduction programs in the U.S. Rocky Mountains, are missing a substantial part of the diversity of the ancestral wolves; in particular, they lack haplotypes associated with past Mexican populations. Thus, historically, the genetic diversity of grey wolves was geographically structured, and successful reintroductions to the western United States may depend on adding Mexican grey wolves to the population mix. — AMS

Mol. Ecol. 14, 9 (2005).

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