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Evaluating wildlife translocations using genomics: A bighorn sheep case study

November 21, 2020

Wildlife restoration often involves translocation efforts to reintroduce species and supplement small, fragmented populations. We examined the genomic consequences of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) translocations and population isolation to enhance understanding of evolutionary processes that affect population genetics and inform future restoration strategies. We conducted a population genomic analysis of 511 bighorn sheep from 17 areas, including native and reintroduced populations that received 0–10 translocations. Using the Illumina High Density Ovine array, we generated datasets of 6,155 to 33,289 single nucleotide polymorphisms and completed clustering, population tree, and kinship analyses. Our analyses determined that natural gene flow did not occur between most populations, including two pairs of native herds that had past connectivity. We synthesized genomic evidence across analyses to evaluate 24 different translocation events and detected eight successful reintroductions (i.e., lack of signal for recolonization from nearby populations) and five successful augmentations (i.e., reproductive success of translocated individuals) based on genetic similarity with the source populations. A single native population founded six of the reintroduced herds, suggesting that environmental conditions did not need to match for populations to persist following reintroduction. Augmentations consisting of 18–57 animals including males and females succeeded, whereas augmentations of two males did not result in a detectable genetic signature. Our results provide insight on genomic distinctiveness of native and reintroduced herds, information on the relative success of reintroduction and augmentation efforts and their associated attributes, and guidance to enhance genetic contribution of augmentations and reintroductions to aid in bighorn sheep restoration.

Publication Year 2020
Title Evaluating wildlife translocations using genomics: A bighorn sheep case study
DOI 10.1002/ece3.6942
Authors Elizabeth P Flesch, Tabitha Graves, Jennifer Thomson, Kelly Proffitt, P.J. White, Thomas R Stephenson, Robert A. Garrott
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70217645
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center