Conservation genetics and North American bison (Bison bison)

Philip W. Hedrick

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


The many millions of North American bison in the mid-19th century were reduced to near extinction by the middle 1880s. Plains bison, the subspecies found in the United States, were saved from extinction primarily by 5 private ranchers and the survival of a small herd in what is now Yellowstone National Park. This bottleneck resulted in the present-day plains bison population being descended from less than 100 founders. In addition, many conservation herds have cattle ancestry because of hybridization promoted by these ranchers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today, although there are around 500000 plains bison in North America, only 4% (20000) are in conservation herds. Only 1 conservation herd with no known ancestry from cattle has an effective population size of more than 1000. Here I review and evaluate this situation and provide recommendations for the reduction of cattle ancestry, avoidance of inbreeding depression, and maintenance of genetic variation in the conservation herds of bison.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-420
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Heredity
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2009


  • Bison
  • Effective population size
  • Genetic variation
  • Hybridization
  • Inbreeding
  • MtDNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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