Temporal Analysis of Genetic Structure to Assess Population Dynamics of Reintroduced Swift Foxes
Conservation Biology , Volume 27 - Issue 6 p. 1389- 1398
Reintroductions are increasingly used to reestablish species, but a paucity of long-term postrelease monitoring has limited understanding of whether and when viable populations subsequently persist. We conducted temporal genetic analyses of reintroduced populations of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in Canada (Alberta and Saskatchewan) and the United States (Montana). We used samples collected 4 years apart, 17 years from the initiation of the reintroduction, and 3 years after the conclusion of releases. To assess program success, we genotyped 304 hair samples, subsampled from the known range in 2000 and 2001, and 2005 and 2006, at 7 microsatellite loci. We compared diversity, effective population size, and genetic connectivity over time in each population. Diversity remained stable over time and there was evidence of increasing effective population size. We determined population structure in both periods after correcting for differences in sample sizes. The geographic distribution of these populations roughly corresponded with the original release locations, which suggests the release sites had residual effects on the population structure. However, given that both reintroduction sites had similar source populations, habitat fragmentation, due to cropland, may be associated with the population structure we found. Although our results indicate growing, stable populations, future connectivity analyses are warranted to ensure both populations are not subject to negative small-population effects. Our results demonstrate the importance of multiple sampling years to fully capture population dynamics of reintroduced populations.