Intentional genetic introgression influences survival of adults and subadults in a small, inbred felid population

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Summary1. Inbreeding and low genetic diversity can cause reductions in individual fitness and increase extinction risk in animal populations. Intentional introgression, achieved by releasing genetically diverse individuals into inbred populations, has been used as a conservation tool to improve demographic performance in endangered populations.2. By the 1980s, Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi) had been reduced to a small, inbred population that appeared to be on the brink of extinction. In 1995, female pumas from Texas (P. c. stanleyana) were released in occupied panther range as part of an intentional introgression programme to restore genetic variability and improve demographic performance of panthers.3. We used 25 years (1981–2006) of continuous radiotelemetry and genetic data to estimate and model subadult and adult panther survival and cause-specific mortality to provide rigorous sex and age class-specific survival estimates and evaluate the effect of the introgression programme on these parameters.4. Genetic ancestry influenced annual survival of subadults and adults after introgression, as F1 generation admixed panthers (ŝ = 0·98) survived better than pre-introgression type panthers (ŝ = 0·77) and other admixed individuals (ŝ = 0·82). Furthermore, heterozygosity was higher for admixed panthers relative to pre-introgression type panthers and positively influenced survival.5. Our results are consistent with hybrid vigour; however, extrinsic factors such as low density of males in some areas of panther range may also have contributed to higher survival of F1 panthers. Regardless, improved survival of F1 subadults and adults likely contributed to the numerical increase in panthers following introgression, and our results indicate that intentional admixture, achieved here by releasing individuals from another population, appears to have been successful in improving demographic performance in this highly endangered population.

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