Hybridization between endangered species and more common species is a significant problem in conservation biology because it may result in extinction or loss of adaptation. The historical reduction in abundance and geographic distribution of the American plains bison (Bison bison bison) and their recovery over the last 125 years is well documented. However, introgression from domestic cattle (Bos taurus) into the few remaining bison populations that existed in the late 1800s has now been identified in many modern bison herds. We examined the phenotypic effect of this ancestry by comparing weight and height of bison with cattle or bison mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from Santa Catalina Island, California (U.S.A.), a nutritionally stressful environment for bison, and of a group of age-matched feedlot bison males in Montana, a nutritionally rich environment. The environmental and nutritional differences between these 2 bison populations were very different and demonstrated the phenotypic effect of domestic cattle mtDNA in bison over a broad range of conditions. For example, the average weight of feedlot males that were 2 years of age was 2.54 times greater than that of males from Santa Catalina Island. In both environments, bison with cattle mtDNA had lower weight compared with bison with bison mtDNA, and on Santa Catalina Island, the height of bison with cattle mtDNA was lower than the height of bison with bison mtDNA. These data support the hypothesis that body size is smaller and height is lower in bison with domestic cattle mtDNA and that genomic integrity is important for the conservation of the American plains bison.
- Catalina IslandHeightHybridizationIntrogressionMtDNAWeight