Knowledge about changes in behavioural traits related to wildness and tameness is for most mammals lacking, despite the increased trend of using domestic stock to re-establish wild populations into historical ranges. To test for persistence of behavioural traits of wild reindeer (Rangifer tarandus L.) exposed to hunting, we sampled DNA, vigilance and flight responses in wild reindeer herds with varying domestic ancestry. Analyses of 14 DNA microsatellite loci revealed a dichotomous main genetic structure reflecting their native origin, with the Rondane reindeer genetically different from the others and with least differentiation towards the Hardangervidda reindeer. The genetic clustering of the reindeer in Norefjell-Reinsjøfjell, Ottadalen and Forollhogna, together with domestic reindeer, supports a predominant domestic origin of these herds. Despite extensive hunting in all herds, the behavioural measures indicate increasing vigilance, alert and flight responses with increasing genetic dissimilarity with domestic herds. Vigilance frequency and time spent vigilant were higher in Rondane compared to Hardangervidda, which again were higher than herds with a domestic origin. We conclude that previous domestication has preserved a hard wired behavioural trait in some reindeer herds exhibiting less fright responses towards humans that extensive hunting has, but only slightly, altered. This brings novel and relevant knowledge to discussions about genetic diversity of wildlife in general and wild reindeer herds in Norway in specific.
© 2012 The Authors. Journal of Evolutionary Biology © 2012 European Society For Evolutionary Biology.