Genetic evaluation of a reintroduced population of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes)

Cynthia M. Cain, Travis M. Livieri, Bradley J. Swanson

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12 Scopus citations


The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) went extinct in the wild when the last 18 known ferrets were captured for a captive-breeding program. Following the success of the captive-breeding program, 146 genetically nonessential ferrets were released at the Conata Basin, South Dakota, from 1996 to 1999. We conducted a genetic analysis of the Conata Basin black-footed ferret population from 2001 to 2003 to determine if genetic variation had been lost since the cessation of reintroductions and if demographic- and genetic-based estimates of effective population size (Ne) accurately predicted observed levels of heterozygosity. We used DNA from wild-born kits (n ?=? 254) in the Conata Basin population (20012003) to calculate current genetic diversity levels. Both allelic diversity (A ?=? 2, both subpopulations) and mean heterozygosity were low for both subpopulations0.39 ± 0.12 SE in Agate-Sage Creek and 0.39 ± 0.16 SE in Heck Tablebut not significantly different from estimates made in 1999. We found no significant difference between observed and expected heterozygosity levels. Demographic-based estimates of Ne were an order of magnitude higher than genetic-based estimates of Ne, but the 2 estimates provide a range of Ne values for the population. This study shows that the Conata Basin ferret population is able to maintain its genetic diversity over time despite its population history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)751-759
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Mammalogy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 16 2011


  • black-footed ferret
  • bottleneck
  • effective population size
  • heterozygosity
  • microsatellites
  • Mustela nigripes
  • reintroduction
  • translocation


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