Noninvasive Sampling Reveals Short-Term Genetic Rescue in an Insular Red Fox Population

Cate B. Quinn, Preston B. Alden, Benjamin Sacks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Genetic factors in the decline of small populations are extremely difficult to study in nature. We leveraged a natural experiment to investigate evidence of inbreeding depression and genetic rescue in a remnant population of subalpine-specialized Sierra Nevada red foxes (Vulpes vulpes necator) using noninvasive genetic monitoring during 2010-2017. Only 7 individuals were detected in the first 2 years. These individuals assigned genetically to the historical population and exhibited genetic hallmarks of inbreeding and no evidence of reproduction. Two years into the study, we detected 2 first-generation immigrant males from a recently expanding population of red foxes in the Great Basin Desert. Through annual resampling of individuals (634 red fox DNA samples, 41 individuals) and molecular reconstruction of pedigrees, we documented 1-3 litters/year for 5 years, all descended directly or indirectly from matings involving immigrant foxes. The observed heterozygosity and allelic richness of the population nearly doubled in 2 years. Abundance increased, indicative of a rapidly expanding population. Throughout the study, adult survival was high. Restoration of gene flow apparently improved the demographic trajectory of this population in the short term. Whether these benefits continue in the longer term could depend on numerous factors, such as maintenance of any locally adapted alleles. This study highlights the value of noninvasive genetic monitoring to assess rapidly shifting conditions in small populations. Uncertainties about the longer-term trajectory of this population underscore the need to continue monitoring and to research potential for both negative and positive aspects of continued genetic infusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberesz024
Pages (from-to)559-576
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Heredity
Volume110
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 16 2019

Keywords

  • inbreeding depression
  • noninvasive genetic sampling
  • Sierra Nevada red fox
  • small populations
  • Vulpes vulpes necator

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)

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