California's 22 tule elk (Cervus elaphus nannodes) herds reportedly were founded by the single elk pair remaining in southern California in the 1870s and have been extensively managed during the ensuing 132 years. In our study, the first report of microsatellite variation among tule elk herds, we detected few significant genetic differences among herds. Furthermore, variation at 12 microsatellite loci was extremely limited within tule elk herds. We found large, significant differences between tule elk and both Rocky Mountain (C. e. nelsoni) and Manitoban elk (C. e. manitobensis) at the same 12 microsatellite loci. Tule elk possessed ≤50% of the allelic diversity and heterozygosity found in the other subspecies. Tule elk were fixed at 5 loci at which the other subspecies possessed an average of 4.6 alleles. We observed very large pairwise Fst values and genetic distances between tule elk and both other subspecies, likely due to the very restricted variation in tule elk, rather than the presence of unique variation. Modeling of the genetic characteristics of tule elk indicated that management strategies involving transplants among all tule elk herds appear to be the most beneficial for the maintenance of nuclear variation in this subspecies. We also investigated impacts of small herd size and varying sex ratios on maintenance of microsatellite variation in tule elk.
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Vol. 68 • No. 1