Subspecies hybridization as a potential conservation tool in species reintroductions

Lilith J. Zecherle, Hazel J. Nichols, Shirli Bar-David, Richard P. Brown, Helen Hipperson, Gavin J. Horsburgh, Alan R. Templeton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Reintroductions are a powerful tool for the recovery of endangered species. However, their long-term success is strongly influenced by the genetic diversity of the reintroduced population. The chances of population persistence can be improved by enhancing the population's adaptive ability through the mixing of individuals from different sources. However, where source populations are too diverse the reintroduced population could also suffer from outbreeding depression or unsuccessful admixture due to behavioural or genetic barriers. For the reintroduction of Asiatic wild ass Equus hemionus ssp. in Israel, a breeding core was created from individuals of two different subspecies (E. h. onager & E. h. kulan). Today the population comprises approximately 300 individuals and displays no signs of outbreeding depression. The aim of this study was a population genomic evaluation of this conservation reintroduction protocol. We used maximum likelihood methods and genetic clustering analyses to investigate subspecies admixture and test for spatial autocorrelation based on subspecies ancestry. Further, we analysed heterozygosity and effective population sizes in the breeding core prior to release and the current wild population. We discovered high levels of subspecies admixture in the breeding core and wild population, consistent with a significant heterozygote excess in the breeding core. Furthermore, we found no signs of spatial autocorrelation associated with subspecies ancestry in the wild population. Inbreeding and variance effective population size estimates were low. Our results indicate no genetic or behavioural barriers to admixture between the subspecies and suggest that their hybridization has led to greater genetic diversity in the reintroduced population. The study provides rare empirical evidence of the successful application of subspecies hybridization in a reintroduction. It supports use of intraspecific hybridization as a tool to increase genetic diversity in conservation translocations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1216-1224
Number of pages9
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2021


  • Equus hemionus
  • conservation management
  • genetic admixture
  • reintroduction
  • subspecies hybridization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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