Background: Our ability to monitor populations or species that were once threatened or endangered and in the process of recovery is enhanced by using genetic methods to assess overall population stability and size over time. This can be accomplished most directly by obtaining genetic measures from temporally-spaced samples that reflect the overall stability of the population as given by changes in genetic diversity levels (allelic richness and heterozygosity), degree of population differentiation (FST and DEST), and effective population size (Ne). The primary goal of any recovery effort is to produce a longterm self-sustaining population, and these genetic measures provide a metric by which we can gauge our progress and help make important management decisions.
Methodology/Principal Findings: The peregrine falcon in North America (Falco peregrinus tundrius and anatum) was delisted in 1994 and 1999, respectively, and its abundance will be monitored by the species Recovery Team every three years until 2015. Although the United States Fish and Wildlife Service makes a distinction between tundrius and anatum subspecies, our genetic results based on eleven microsatellite loci suggest limited differentiation that can be attributed to an isolation by distance relationship and warrant no delineation of these two subspecies in its northern latitudinal distribution from Alaska through Canada into Greenland. Using temporal samples collected at Padre Island, Texas during migration (seven temporal time periods between 1985–2007), no significant differences in genetic diversity or significant population differentiation in allele frequencies between time periods were observed and were indistinguishable from those obtained from tundrius/anatum breeding locations throughout their northern distribution. Estimates of harmonic mean Ne were variable and imprecise, but always greater than 500 when employing multiple temporal genetic methods.
Conclusions/Significance: These results, including those from simulations to assess the power of each method to estimate Ne, suggest a stable or growing population, which is consistent with ongoing field-based monitoring surveys. Therefore, historic and continuing efforts to prevent the extinction of the peregrine falcon in North America appear successful with no indication of recent decline, at least from the northern latitude range-wide perspective. The results also further highlight the importance of archiving samples and their use for continual assessment of population recovery and long-term viability.
Johnson, Jeff A.; Talbot, Sandra L.; Burnham, Kurt K.; Sage, George K.; Brown, Joseph W.; Maechtle, Tom L.; Seegar, William S.; Yates, Michael A.; Anderson, Bud; and Mindell, David P.. (2010). "The Use of Genetics for the Management of a Recovering Population: Temporal Assessment of Migratory Peregrine Falcons in North America". PLOS ONE, 5(11), 1-15. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0014042