Date of this Version
Conservation Genetics (2021) 22:903–912 https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-021-01372-z
Habitat fragmentation and degradation have led to a proliferation of small and isolated populations that are vulnerable to genetic erosion. Reduction in habitat and concomitant declines in population connectivity can expediate the collapse of species that exist as natural metapopulations. In recent years, Allegheny woodrats (Neotoma magister) have experienced local extirpations and declines in genetic diversity across their range due to disease-related mortality, reduced food availability, and disruption of connectivity among subpopulations. In response, we developed a captive-breeding program to facilitate genetic management of isolated woodrat populations in Indiana. Between 2010 and 2012, 27 captive-reared individuals were released to four sites with declining woodrat abundance. We used 99 single nucleotide polymorphisms and 11 microsatellite loci to genotype sympatric woodrats from the four sites, sampled before and after the release of captive-reared individuals, to: (1) evaluate the post-release reproductive success of captive-reared individuals and (2) characterize changes in genetic diversity. A minimum of five of the 27 captive-reared woodrats produced at least 20 offspring, 11 of which were sired by a single male. One site exhibited increased abundance by the end of the monitoring period, although genetic variability decreased. Two sites experienced population declines in concert with fluctuating genetic variability. The last site showed comparable abundance at the beginning and end of the monitoring period, with an increase in observed heterozygosity. Our results indicate that captive-reared woodrats were, in some cases, able to reproduce in the wild, interbreed with residents and increase genetic diversity and abundance among small, isolated subpopulations.
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