Genetic signature of disease epizootic and reintroduction history in an endangered carnivore

Payton Phillips, Travis M. Livieri, Bradley J. Swanson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Emerging infectious diseases have recently increased in wildlife and can result in population declines and the loss of genetic diversity in susceptible populations. As populations of impacted species decline, genetic diversity can be lost, with ramifications including reduced effective population size and increased population structuring. For species of conservation concern, which may already have low genetic diversity, the loss of genetic diversity can be especially important. To investigate the impacts of a novel pathogen on genetic diversity in a genetically depauperate endangered species, we assessed the ramifications of a sylvatic plague-induced bottleneck in black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes). Following a plague epizootic, we genotyped 184 ferrets from Conata Basin and Badlands National Park, South Dakota, at seven microsatellite loci. We compared our results to pre-plague studies in the same population. We observed population substructuring into three genetic clusters. These clusters reflect founder effects from ferret reintroduction events followed by genetic drift. Compared to the pre-plague population, we observed losses of allelic diversity in all clusters, as well as significantly reduced heterozygosity in one cluster. These results indicate that disease epizootics may reduce population size and also genetic diversity. Our results suggest the importance of early and sustained management in mitigating disease epizootics in naïve populations for the maintenance of genetic diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779-789
JournalJournal of Mammalogy
StatePublished - May 22 2020


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