Genetic variation among populations of river otters in North America: Considerations for reintroduction projects

Thomas L. Serfass, Robert P. Brooks, James M. Novak, Paul E. Johns, Olin E. Rhodes

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27 Scopus citations


Horizontal starch gel electrophoresis was used to assess variability at 23 presumptive gene loci of 732 river otters obtained from fur-trappers in 18 states and three Canadian provinces. States and provinces providing otters were sorted into eight geographic regions for genetic comparisons. Multilocus heterozygosity and polymorphism ranged from 0.018 to 0.032 and 0.044 to 0.087, respectively. One locus, esterase-2, (EST-2) demonstrated a high level of polymorphism throughout all regions. Malate dehydrogenase-1 (MDH-1) was polymorphic throughout the Mississippi drainage but not elsewhere. Heterozygosity, occurrence of rare alleles, and mean number of alleles per locus were associated positively with estimated population sizes. Average heterozygosity and polymorphism values for otters within regions were lower than overall averages reported for mammals but similar to the range of those observed in other mammalian carnivores. Patterns of gene flow suggested by the distribution of polymorphism at the MDH-1 locus do not concur with the current taxonomic classification of river otters. Levels of genetic variation detected in this investigation present a positive outlook for the maintenance of genetic diversity in river otter populations, if sound management principles are applied for reintroductions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)736-746
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Mammalogy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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