Publication co-authored by Kevin E. Colson, 2008 DPDF Animal Studies Fellow Karen H. Mager, and Kris J. Hundertmark:
Alaska caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) in southwestern Alaska are a poorly understood system, with differing descriptions of their regional population structure, population abundance that has varied greatly through time and instances of the release of domestic reindeer (R. t. tarandus) into their range. Here, we use 21 microsatellites and 297 individuals to investigate the genetic population structure of herds and examine for population bottlenecks. Then, using genetic characteristics of existing reindeer populations, we examine introgression into the wild caribou populations. Caribou of the area are genetically diverse (H E between 0.69 and 0.84), with diversity decreasing along the Alaska Peninsula (AP). Using G ST and Jost’s D, we find extensive structuring among all herds; Migrate-n finds that AP herds share few effective migrants with other herds, with Southern AP and Unimak Island herds having the least. Bayesian clustering techniques are able to resolve all but Denali and Mulchatna caribou herds. Using a conservative assignment threshold of q reindeer ≥ 0.2, 3% of caribou show signs of domestic introgression. Denali herd has the most introgressed individuals (6.9%); those caribou herds that were historically adjacent to smaller reindeer herds, or were historically without adjacent herding, show no admixture. This domestic introgression persists despite the lack of managed reindeer in the region since the 1940s. Our results suggest that despite previous movement data indicating metapopulation-like dispersal in this region, there may be unknown barriers to reproduction by dispersing individuals. Finally, our results support findings that wild and domestic Rangifer can hybridize and show this introgression may persist dozens of generations after domestics are no longer present.