“Good news: a genetic rescue improves survival of the Florida Panther”

Florida panthers the last big cat in Florida was in terrible trouble. By the 1990s, there were only 20 to 25 adults left. The small numbers, cut off from any possible contact with other panther species that roam the West, meant inbreeding that was causing genetic defects: Low testosterone levels, poor sperm quality, holes in the heart, undescended testes, even kinked tails and cowlicks between their shoulders.
Their numbers were dwindling. So eight cousin female panthers from Texas were moved into southern Florida 15 years ago in hopes of boosting reproduction. The wildlife biologists were not certain that they would mate, or produce strong healthy offspring.  The cats are closely related, but genetically distinct.
Five of those eight Texas panthers that were imported in 1995 quickly bred to produce 15 kittens, the first of generations of Texas-Florida hybrids responsible for recolonizing the area — and those increasing numbers of hybrids have proved hardier, the study found.
There now are an estimated 100 Florida panthers, still endangered and struggling on shrinking habitat but an important improvement.
The new study for the first time details the genetic diversity that accompanied the population rebound.
Onorato’s colleagues and geneticists at the National Cancer Institute compared samples taken from 591 panthers between 1978 and 2009, to track changing genetic heritage.
Five of those eight Texas panthers that were imported in 1995 quickly bred to produce 15 kittens, the first of generations of Texas-Florida hybrids responsible for recolonizing the area — and those increasing numbers of hybrids have proved hardier, the study found.
While many panther kittens don’t survive to adulthood, more of the hybrid kittens do. The hybrids even proved better at escaping capture by the scientists, with high jumps from trees. The crippling birth defects haven’t disappeared but have been dramatically reduced.
Challenges
There seems to be a slowing of the population growth after 2004 no one knows how long the progress will continue. Genetic changes tend to decline over time usually.
The study was published in September 24th edition of the Journal Science.

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Excerpts and Image courtesy of   http://yhoo.it/bcrtZY

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