Does genetic introgression improve female reproductive performance? A test on the endangered Florida panther
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Genetic introgression has been suggested as a management tool for mitigating detrimental effects of inbreeding depression, but the role of introgression in species conservation has been controversial, partly because population-level impacts of genetic introgressions are not well understood. Concerns about potential inbreeding depression in the endangered Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) led to the release of eight female Texas pumas (P. c. stanleyana) into the Florida panther population in 1995. We used long-term reproductive data (1995-2008) collected from 61 female Florida panthers to estimate and model reproduction probability (probability of producing a litter) and litter size, and to investigate the influence of intentional genetic introgression on these parameters. Overall, 6-month probability of reproduction (±1SE) was 0.232 ± 0.021 and average litter size was 2.60 ± 0.09. Although F(1) admixed females had a lower reproduction probability than females with other ancestries, this was most likely because kittens born to F(1) females survive better; consequently, these females are unavailable for breeding until kittens are independent. There was no evidence for the effect of ancestry on litter size or of heterozygosity on probability of reproduction or litter size. In contrast, earlier studies have shown that genetic introgression positively affected Florida panther survival. Our results, along with those of earlier studies, clearly suggest that genetic introgression can have differential effects on components of fitness and highlight the importance of examining multiple demographic parameters when evaluating the effects of management actions.
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