Future Genetic Management

While genetic restoration of the Florida panther can be deemed a success with regard to some of its initial objectives, panthers are still confined to a small, isolated population and therefore will suffer from inbreeding and loss of genetic variation over time. A diverse gene pool is considered a sign of a healthy population. As the genetic restoration plan acknowledges, this eventuality may require the release into Florida of additional pumas from other populations to assure the long-term survival of the panther. Research completed in 2017 has shown Florida panthers continue to reap the benefits of the genetic restoration implemented more than 20 years ago.

 Correlates Of Inbreeding: Kinked Tail, Cowlick, Cryptorchid

The occurrence of kinked tails, cowlicks and undescended testicles have been reduced since the 1995 genetic rescue.

 

Correlates Of Inbreeding: Sperm, He, ASD

The percent of normal sperm and individual genetic diversity (He) have increased since the 1995 genetic rescue. The percentage of panthers with atrial septal heart defects (ASD) has decreased.

 

A common misconception held by some people is the 1995 genetic restoration with Texas pumas has eliminated the “pure” Florida panther. However before becoming artificially isolated through unregulated hunting and habitat loss, the Florida panther interbred with the eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar) to the north and Texas puma (Puma concolor stanleyana) to the west. This mixing of genes is what kept all the panther populations healthy, including the original pre-Columbian Florida panther. The goal of genetic restoration was not to replace the characteristics that make the Florida panther unique but rather to restore historic and healthy genetic variation. Panthers roam over large areas and the infusion of new genes has spread throughout the Florida population over the past two decades. Recent genetic analyses revealed that the mix of genes in individual panthers varies, and the original genetic characteristics prior to the restoration continue to be present in a large portion of the population.

Moving forward, the greatest hurdle to recovery for the Florida panther remains the conservation of sufficient habitat to allow the population to increase in size and expand beyond south Florida. Our genetic management success with panthers also should prove useful to other conservation projects worldwide that deal with small, inbred, isolated populations.

 



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