Date of this Version
Journal of Heredity 2012:103(3):360–370; doi:10.1093/jhered/esr140
The Yellowstone National Park bison herd is 1 of only 2 populations known to have continually persisted on their current landscape since pre-Columbian times. Over the last century, the census size of this herd has fluctuated from around 100 individuals to over 3000 animals. Previous studies involving radiotelemetry, tooth wear, and parturition timing provide evidence of at least 2 distinct groups of bison within Yellowstone National Park. To better understand the biology of Yellowstone bison, we investigated the potential for limited gene flow across this population using multilocus Bayesian clustering analysis. Two genetically distinct and clearly defined subpopulations were identified based on both genotypic diversity and allelic distributions. Genetic cluster assignments were highly correlated with sampling locations for a subgroup of live capture individuals. Furthermore, a comparison of the cluster assignments to the 2 principle winter cull sites revealed critical differences in migration patterns across years. The 2 Yellowstone subpopulations display levels of differentiation that are only slightly less than that between populations which have been geographically and reproductively isolated for over 40 years. The identification of cryptic population subdivision and genetic differentiation of this magnitude highlights the importance of this biological phenomenon in the management of wildlife species.