Save the Florida Panthers through Genetic Variation.

    In the 1900s, this population nosedived because of hunting and habitat loss. By the 1990s, there were fewer than 30 Florida panthers left. To make matters worse, those survivors were in bad physical shape. They were riddled with diseases and parasites and had poor sperm quality and low fecundity, as well as a host of problems like undescended testicles, kinked tails, and heart defects. Scientists predicted that the Florida panther would be extinct within 20 years. But there’s hope! In 1995, eight female pumas from Texas were moved into the area and took up residence with their Florida cousins. The new panthers brought with them new gene versions, which help counteract two negative side effects of small population size: reduced genetic variation and inbreeding. The new gene versions from the eight panthers outlasted their original carriers and have been passed down through the generations to individuals alive today. Now, the population size has tripled, genetic variation is up, and signs of inbreeding are down. And over the past 30 years, the panthers have gotten a further boost from increased legal protection and the establishment of additional protected panther habitat, as well as simple measures, like new freeway underpasses that help the cats avoid vehicles. Of course, the Florida panther is still endangered and will need continued protection and even more habitat to survive for the long term.
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