Conservation genetics of the endangered Pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus)
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The Pampas deer (Ozotoceros bezoarticus L. 1758) is the most endangered neotropical cervid, and in the past occupied a wide range of open habitats including grassland, pampas, savanna, and cerrado (Brazil) from 5 degrees to 41 degrees S. To better understand the effect of habitat fragmentation on gene flow and genetic variation, and to uncover genetic units for conservation, we examined DNA sequences from the mitochondrial control region of 54 individuals from six localities distributed throughout the present geographical range of the Pampas deer. Our results suggest that the control region of the Pampas deer is one of the most polymorphic of any mammal. This remarkably high variability probably reflects large historic population sizes of millions of individuals in contrast to numbers of fewer than 80 000 today. Gene flow between populations is generally close to one migrant per generation and, with the exception of two populations from Argentina, all populations are significantly differentiated. The degree of gene flow was correlated with geographical distance between populations, a result consistent with limited dispersal being the primary determinant of genetic differentiation between populations. The molecular genetic results provide a mandate for habitat restoration and reintroduction of Pampas deer so that levels of genetic variation can be preserved and historic patterns of abundance can be reconstructed. However, the source of individuals for reintroduction generally should be from populations geographically closest to those now in danger of extinction.