US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Hand BK, Chen S, Anderson N, Beja-Pereira A, Cross PC, Ebinger M, Edwards MH, Garrott RA, Kardos MD, Kauffman M, Landgut EL, Middleton A, Scurlock B, White PJ, Zager P, Schwartz MK, and Luikart G. 2014. Sex-biased gene flow among elk in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 5(1):124–132; e1944-687X. doi: 10.3996/022012-JFWM-017


Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management | June 2014 | Volume 5 | Issue 1


We quantified patterns of population genetic structure to help understand gene flow among elk populations across the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. We sequenced 596 base pairs of the mitochondrial control region of 380 elk from eight populations. Analysis revealed high mitochondrial DNA variation within populations, averaging 13.0 haplotypes with high mean gene diversity (0.85). The genetic differentiation among populations for mitochondrial DNA was relatively high (FST = 0.161; P = 0.001) compared to genetic differentiation for nuclear microsatellite data (FST = 0.002; P = 0.332), which suggested relatively low female gene flow among populations. The estimated ratio of male to female gene flow (mm/mf = 46) was among the highest we have seen reported for large mammals. Genetic distance (for mitochondrial DNA pairwise FST) was not significantly correlated with geographic (Euclidean) distance between populations (Mantel’s r = 0.274, P = 0.168). Large mitochondrial DNA genetic distances (e.g., FST . 0.2) between some of the geographically closest populations (,65 km) suggested behavioral factors and/or landscape features might shape female gene flow patterns. Given the strong sex-biased gene flow, future research and conservation efforts should consider the sexes separately when modeling corridors of gene flow or predicting spread of maternally transmitted diseases. The growing availability of genetic data to compare male vs. female gene flow provides many exciting opportunities to explore the magnitude, causes, and implications of sex-biased gene flow likely to occur in many species.