Assessing genetic diversity and connectivity in a tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) metapopulation in Northern California

Thomas J. Batter, Joshua P. Bush, Benjamin N. Sacks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) is a California endemic subspecies that experienced an extreme bottleneck (potentially two individuals) in the mid-1800s. Through active management, including reintroductions, the subspecies has grown to approximately 6000 individuals spread across 22 recognized populations. The populations tend to be localized and separated by unoccupied intervening habitat, prompting targeted translocations to ensure gene flow. However, little is known about the genetic status or connectivity among adjacent populations in the absence of active translocations. We used 19 microsatellites and a sex marker to obtain baseline data on the genetic effective population sizes and functional genetic connectivity of four of these populations, three of which were established since the 1980s and one of which was established ~ 100 years ago. A Bayesian assignment approach suggested the presence of 5 discrete genetic clusters, which corresponded to the four primary populations and two subpopulations within the oldest of them. Effective population sizes ranged from 15 (95% CI 10–22) to 51 (95% CI 32–88). We detected little or no evidence of gene flow among most populations. Exceptions were a signature of unidirectional gene flow to one population founded by emigrants of the other 30 years earlier, and bidirectional gene flow between subpopulations within the oldest population. We propose that social cohesion more than landscape characteristics explained population structure, which developed over many generations corresponding to population expansion. Whether or which populations can grow and reach sufficient effective population sizes on their own or require translocations to maintain genetic diversity and population growth is unclear. In the future, we recommend pairing genetic with demographic monitoring of these and other reintroduced elk populations, including targeted monitoring following translocations to evaluate their effects and necessity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalConservation Genetics
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Cervus canadensis
  • Gene flow
  • Genetic structure
  • Tule elk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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