Major histocompatibility complex monomorphism and low levels of DNA fingerprinting variability in a reintroduced and rapidly expanding population of beavers.
Loss of genetic variation due to population bottlenecks may be a severe threat for the survival of endangered species. Assessment and maintenance of genetic variability are thus crucial for conservation programs related to endangered populations. Scandinavian beavers went through an extensive bottleneck during the last century due to overhunting. In Sweden the species became extirpated but in Norway extinction was avoided by legal protection. Following reintroductions of small numbers of remaining Norwegian animals in 1922-1939, the Swedish population has increased tremendously, now harboring 100,000 animals. We show here that this viable population of beavers possesses extremely low levels of genetic variability at DNA fingerprinting loci and monomorphism at major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I and class II loci. A similar pattern was also evident among Norwegian beavers but low levels of genetic variability were not a characteristic of the species since Russian conspecifics displayed substantial DNA fingerprinting polymorphism. However, the Russian animals were monomorphic at MHC loci, indicating that the European beaver is exceptional in its low level of MHC variability. The results demonstrate that a conservation program can be successful despite low levels of genetic variation in the founder population.