Genetic rescue, in which the introduction of one or more unrelated individuals into an inbred population results in the reduction of detrimental genetic effects and an increase in one or more vital rates, is a potentially important management tool for mitigating adverse effects of inbreeding. We used molecular techniques to document the consequences of a male wolf (Canis lupus) that immigrated, on its own, across Lake Superior ice to the small, inbred wolf population in Isle Royale National Park. The immigrant's fitness so exceeded that of native wolves that within 2.5 generations, he was related to every individual in the population and his ancestry constituted 56 per cent of the population, resulting in a selective sweep of the total genome. In other words, all the male ancestry (50% of the total ancestry) descended from this immigrant, plus 6 per cent owing to the success of some of his inbred offspring. The immigration event occurred in an environment where space was limiting (i.e. packs occupied all available territories) and during a time when environmental conditions had deteriorated (i.e. wolves' prey declined). These conditions probably explain why the immigration event did not obviously improve the population's demography (e.g. increased population numbers or growth rate). Our results show that the beneficial effects of gene flow may be substantial and quickly manifest, short-lived under some circumstances, and how the demographic benefits of genetic rescue might be masked by environmental conditions.
- Received February 6, 2011.
- Accepted March 8, 2011.
- This Journal is © 2011 The Royal Society