Rebuilding endangered species using a stepping-stone model for reintroduction

Captive breeding programs are intended to rebuild highly endangered populations, but a major problem is how to reintroduce captive-bred individuals back to their native habitat. Often, there is low survival of reintroduced individuals compared to wild-born individuals. Such is the case for the critically endangered Vancouver Island marmot, which had shrunk to just 30 individuals in 2003. A new experiment compares survival to breeding age for three strategies: transferring wild-born individuals, translocating captive-born individuals to wild habitat, and a new stepping stone strategy that involved first transplanting captive born individuals to a safe wild area with high survival before transferring them in their second year to the lower-survival final destination. While the highest success is from transferring wild individuals to new areas, the stepping-stone approach was estimated with 83% certain to have higher probability of reaching prime breeding age than the straight-to-wild individuals. The new results, coauthored by SAFS professor Sarah Converse and new SAFS postdoc Nathan Hostetter, appear in the journal Animal Conservation.

Three translocation methods were compared for Vancouver Island marmots: from captivity to the wild area, from captivity to a safe wild area to the final wild area, and from the safe wild area to the final wild area.
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