Reintroductions are a common tool for restoring lost biodiversity around the globe and across taxa. The decision to pursue a reintroduction is often based upon the success of past efforts, yet in most cases the assumption that resulting populations are the products of recolonization, is not tested. By collecting data from source populations, reintroduced populations, and natural populations adjacent to reintroductions, it is possible to evaluate the success of past reintroduction events and these data may be used to guide future conservation initiatives. We used the fisher (Pekania pennanti), one of North America's most commonly reintroduced species, as a model to conduct an evaluation of reintroduction success. We genotyped 147 individuals at 15 microsatellite loci to determine the genetic contribution of reintroduced individuals to an ostensibly successfully reintroduced population in central Alberta, Canada. Principle component analysis and Bayesian statistical methods converged with confidence on one result: assayed individuals were descended from adjacent native Albertan populations, not putative founders from eastern Canada. A review of fisher reintroduction literature reveals similar patterns: a large proportion of contemporary individuals appear to be the result of recolonization events. Our study has broad implications for conservation as it may imply a 1) over-confidence in past reintroductions, which might lead to significant expenditure of financial and human capital on future initiatives of modest, if any, benefit, and 2) underestimation of some species' ability to disperse and (re-)colonize, highlighting limits to our understanding of functional connectivity. Obtaining appropriate genetic samples in relation to reintroductions will help determine when future reintroduction is likely to be the best conservation initiative.

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Keywords Conservation genetics, Fisher, Pekania pennanti, Reintroduction biology, Species recovery, Wildlife management
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Journal Biological Conservation
Stewart, F.E.C. (Frances E.C.), Volpe, J.P. (John P.), Taylor, J.S. (John S.), Bowman, J. (Jeff), Thomas, P.J. (Philippe J.), Pybus, M.J. (Margo J.), & Fisher, J.T. (Jason T.). (2017). Distinguishing reintroduction from recolonization with genetic testing. Biological Conservation, 214, 242–249. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2017.08.004