White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in Kentucky represent an example of successful wildlife restoration. Eliminated from all but a few remnant areas by the early part of the twentieth century, the species is once again widely distributed and abundant as a result of intensive restocking efforts since the 1940s. Seven DNA microsatellite markers were used to survey the extent and pattern of genetic variation in 322 deer from multiple localities throughout the commonwealth. Six genetically homogeneous regions and 1 heterogeneous region were identified across Kentucky. High levels of allelic diversity were detected with no apparent reduction in heterozygosity, disproportionate loss of rare alleles, or shift in modal allele frequency class as might be expected if the severe historical population size reduction generated a concomitant genetic bottleneck. These results are consistent with predictions of founder-flush models: that rapid population growth may minimize the loss of genetic variability associated with a population bottleneck. Nevertheless, comparisons of our data to that derived from other imperiled taxa suggest that species demographics can also play an important role in determining the genetic consequences of population size reduction and subsequent recovery. Our data also illuminate the critical role of deer from Land Between the Lakes (LBL) as the initial source population from which all extant Kentucky deer are descended. While generally supporting current regional management perspectives, our results argue for recognition of the LBL herd as a distinct management island of genetic and historical value.
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Vol. 69 • No. 1