Extensive translocation of wildlife throughout North America has led to concerns regarding taxonomic integrity for a number of species. Often, multiple subspecies or variants were translocated into a common habitat or region, creating the opportunity for hybridization to occur. This issue is of particular concern to managers of wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), a species in which considerable mixing of subspecies has occurred. We aim to quantify the subspecific status and degree of hybridization of individuals within an introduced population of Merriam's turkeys (M. g. merriami) in the Davis Mountains of Texas, USA, and within nearby Rio Grande turkey populations (M. g. intermedia). We used data from the Merriam's source population in New Mexico, USA, as a baseline reference for the genetic characteristics of the Merriam's subspecies. Nineteen years following the introduction event, microsatellite data indicate that the genetic integrity of the introduced population of Merriam's turkeys in the Davis Mountains Preserve has been eroded by both immigration from and hybridization with nearby Rio Grande populations. Data from the mitochondrial control region allow for further characterization of hybrid individuals and indicate that most hybrids were the result of immigrant Rio Grande males mating with resident Merriam's females. Our results attribute to the potential importance of hybridization in wildlife species and suggest that hybridization can be a rapid process capable of drastically altering the evolutionary integrity of animals in a region.
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Vol. 70 • No. 2