Second chance for the plains bison Academic Article uri icon


  • Before European settlement the plains bison (Bison bison bison) numbered in the tens of millions across most of the temperate region of North America. Within the span of a few decades during the mid- to late-1800s its numbers were reduced by hunting and other factors to a few hundred. The plight of the plains bison led to one of the first major movements in North America to save an endangered species. A few individuals and the American Bison Society rescued the remaining animals. Attempts to hybridize cattle and bison when bison numbers were low resulted in extensive cattle gene introgression in bison. Today, though approximately 500,000 plains bison exist in North America, few are free of cattle gene introgression, 96% are subject to anthropogenic selection for commodity production, and only 4% are in herds managed primarily for conservation purposes. Small herd size, artificial selection, cattle-gene introgression, and other factors threaten the diversity and integrity of the bison genome. In addition, the bison is for all practical purposes ecologically extinct across its former range, with multiple consequences for grassland biodiversity. Urgent measures are needed to conserve the wild bison genome and to restore the ecological role of bison in grassland ecosystems. Socioeconomic trends in the Great Plains, combined with new information about bison conservation needs and new conservation initiatives by both the public and public sectors, have set the stage for significant progress in bison conservation over the next few years. 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

published proceedings

  • Biological Conservation

altmetric score

  • 63

author list (cited authors)

  • Freese, C. H., Aune, K. E., Boyd, D. P., Derr, J. N., Forrest, S. C., Cormack Gates, C., ... Redford, K. H.

citation count

  • 86

complete list of authors

  • Freese, Curtis H||Aune, Keith E||Boyd, Delaney P||Derr, James N||Forrest, Steve C||Cormack Gates, C||Gogan, Peter JP||Grassel, Shaun M||Halbert, Natalie D||Kunkel, Kyran||Redford, Kent H

publication date

  • April 2007