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Genetic Origin and Success of Reintroduced White Storks

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After their local extinction in 1954, White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) were reintroduced to Sweden in 1989. The founder population for the reintroduced birds originated in North Africa, rather than from the closest breeding population in northeastern Europe (defined here as native). A number of wild storks have immigrated spontaneously, and a few others of native origin have been acquired for captive breeding. Over the 17 years, 103 of the 241 breeding events by free storks have been by pairs in which at least one parent had some native ancestry. The pedigree for all birds is known, and from this I calculated the proportion of native ancestry for each individual, the inbreeding coefficient, and the kinship between parents. I analyzed how these genetic factors, together with rainfall during breeding, supplementary feeding, and management of the storks (whether parents were born or raised in captivity or free), affected brood size. I also analyzed whether storks with native ancestry had a higher likelihood of migrating. Together with weather and supplementary feeding during the breeding period, genetic origin strongly affected breeding performance. Pairs with entirely native ancestry had on average twice as many chicks as those of entirely African ancestry. Inbreeding and kinship between parents, or management of the parents, did not influence breeding performance significantly. Reproductive success of the African storks in Sweden is so low that they cannot form a sustainable population. In addition, birds with some native ancestry were more likely to migrate from Sweden than those with entirely African ancestry. The difference in performance between native and African storks may be due either to local adaptations or to the bottleneck that the African founding population went through during captive breeding. Overall, my results imply that use of a correct source population for reintroduction programs may be of greater consequence for the program's success than other genetic considerations or management of individuals.
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Keywords: Ciconia ciconia; White Stork; breeding success; cigüeña blanca; población fuente; reintroducción; reintroduction; source population; éxito reproductivo

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Animal Ecology, Lund University, Ecology Building, SE-223 62 Lund, Sweden, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 01 October 2007

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