Mitochondrial Genome Analysis Reveals Historical Lineages in Yellowstone Bison. Academic Article uri icon


  • Yellowstone National Park is home to one of the only plains bison populations that have continuously existed on their present landscape since prehistoric times without evidence of domestic cattle introgression. Previous studies characterized the relatively high levels of nuclear genetic diversity in these bison, but little is known about their mitochondrial haplotype diversity. This study assessed mitochondrial genomes from 25 randomly selected Yellowstone bison and found 10 different mitochondrial haplotypes with a haplotype diversity of 0.78 ( 0.06). Spatial analysis of these mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotypes did not detect geographic population subdivision (FST = -0.06, p = 0.76). However, we identified two independent and historically important lineages in Yellowstone bison by combining data from 65 bison (defined by 120 polymorphic sites) from across North America representing a total of 30 different mitochondrial DNA haplotypes. Mitochondrial DNA haplotypes from one of the Yellowstone lineages represent descendants of the 22 indigenous bison remaining in central Yellowstone in 1902. The other mitochondrial DNA lineage represents descendants of the 18 females introduced from northern Montana in 1902 to supplement the indigenous bison population and develop a new breeding herd in the northern region of the park. Comparing modern and historical mitochondrial DNA diversity in Yellowstone bison helps uncover a historical context of park restoration efforts during the early 1900s, provides evidence against a hypothesized mitochondrial disease in bison, and reveals the signature of recent hybridization between American plains bison (Bison bison bison) and Canadian wood bison (B. b. athabascae). Our study demonstrates how mitochondrial DNA can be applied to delineate the history of wildlife species and inform future conservation actions.

published proceedings

  • PLoS One

altmetric score

  • 19.67

author list (cited authors)

  • Forgacs, D., Wallen, R. L., Dobson, L. K., & Derr, J. N.

citation count

  • 6

complete list of authors

  • Forgacs, David||Wallen, Rick L||Dobson, Lauren K||Derr, James N

editor list (cited editors)

  • Bai, Y.

publication date

  • January 2016