August 15, 2019
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had to make a big decision in the 1990’s in order to save the Florida panther. Local populations of the big cats had decreased drastically over time, resulting in only 20 or 30 individuals left in the wild. Such a small population size meant that when adults attempted to breed, they were producing inbred offspring with a number of genetic problems, including heart problems, and reduced immune responses.
To curb this problem, the Commission decided to complement the local population with eight female pumas from Texas in an attempt to increase the gene pool. By studying data from 1981 to 2015, including radio tracking and genetic information, researchers from the University of Florida have been able to determine that the population has grown almost four-fold, and genetic diversity has increased again to healthy levels. This indicated the introduction of new genetic material from the eight females has allowed the population to grow and reduce the problems of inbreeding.
While this experiment appears to have been successful at this point, the researchers suggest that a lack of ‘gene flow’ may mean this problem will occur again in the future. Because the Florida population is isolated from their nearest relatives in Texas there is no way for the populations to naturally cross breed and share their genetics, meaning similar interventions may be required again in the future.
Source: The Wildlife Society
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