The red-crowned crane (Grus japonensis) is recognized internationally as an endangered species. Migratory populations breed in eastern Russia and northeastern China, whereas the resident population inhabits the island of Hokkaido, Japan. Although the population inhabiting Hokkaido had experienced a severe bottleneck by the end of the 19th century, the population size has recovered to about 1500 and continues to increase now thanks to conservation efforts. A previous study reported that no marked genetic differences were seen in the island population, and that the genetic variation of the whole population on Hokkaido was lower than that of the continental population. However, the precise genetic structure of the island population in the past or near present remains unclear. To better understand the spatiotemporal changes in the genetic structure of the island population, we performed mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analyses using stuffed specimens (years 1878–2001) and tissue or blood samples (years 1970–2014). We found three haplotypes in the island population, one of which was a novel mtDNA haplotype in 1997 and 2007 samples. In addition, there was no clear difference in the haplotype frequency through the time span. These results suggest that the low genetic variation of the island population persisted for the last hundred years. It is thus nearly impossible for the island population to recover its genetic variation in isolation. Conservation plans for this species should therefore include the promotion of genetic exchanges between the continental and island populations, such as through artificial introduction to Hokkaido.
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