Genetic Variation, Structure, and Gene Flow in a Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus) Meta-Population in the Satpura-Maikal Landscape of Central India.
ABSTRACT: Sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) are endemic to the Indian subcontinent. As a result of continued habitat loss and degradation over the past century, sloth bear populations have been in steady decline and now exist only in isolated or fragmented habitat across the entire range. We investigated the genetic connectivity of the sloth bear meta-population in five tiger reserves in the Satpura-Maikal landscape of central India. We used noninvasively collected fecal and hair samples to obtain genotypic information using a panel of seven polymorphic loci. Out of 194 field collected samples, we identified 55 individuals in this meta-population. We found that this meta-population has moderate genetic variation, and is subdivided into two genetic clusters. Further, we identified five first-generation migrants and signatures of contemporary gene flow. We found evidence of sloth bears in the corridor between the Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves, and our results suggest that habitat connectivity and corridors play an important role in maintaining gene flow in this meta-population. These corridors face several anthropogenic and infrastructure development threats that have the potential to sever ongoing gene flow, if policies to protect them are not put into action immediately.
Project description:Genetic studies of the Eurasian brown bear (Ursus arctos) have so far focused on populations from Europe and North America, although the largest distribution area of brown bears is in Asia. In this study, we reveal population genetic parameters for the brown bear population inhabiting the Grand Kaçkar Mountains (GKM) in the north east of Turkey, western Lesser Caucasus. Using both hair (N = 147) and tissue samples (N = 7) collected between 2008 and 2014, we found substantial levels of genetic variation (10 microsatellite loci). Bear samples (hair) taken from rubbing trees worked better for genotyping than those from power poles, regardless of the year collected. Genotyping also revealed that bears moved between habitat patches, despite ongoing massive habitat alterations and the creation of large water reservoirs. This population has the potential to serve as a genetic reserve for future reintroductions in the Middle East. Due to the importance of the GKM population for on-going and future conservation actions, the impacts of habitat alterations in the region ought to be minimized; e.g., by establishing green bridges or corridors over reservoirs and major roads to maintain habitat connectivity and gene flow among populations in the Lesser Caucasus.
Project description:Gene flow is a critical ecological process that must be maintained in order to counteract the detrimental effects of genetic drift in subdivided populations, with conservation benefits ranging from promoting the persistence of small populations to spreading adaptive traits in changing environments. We evaluated historical and contemporary gene flow and effective population sizes of leopards in a landscape in central India using noninvasive sampling. Despite the dramatic changes in land-use patterns in this landscape through recent times, we did not detect any signs that the leopard populations have been through a genetic bottleneck, and they appear to have maintained migration-drift equilibrium. We found that historical levels of gene flow (mean m h = 0.07) were significantly higher than contemporary levels (mean m c = 0.03), and populations with large effective population sizes (Satpura and Kanha Tiger Reserves) are the larger exporters of migrants at both timescales. The greatest decline in historical versus contemporary gene flow is between pairs of reserves that are currently not connected by forest corridors (i.e., Melghat-Pench m h - m c = 0.063; and Kanha-Satpura m h - m c = 0.054). We attribute this reduction in gene flow to accelerated fragmentation and habitat alteration in the landscape over the past few centuries, and suggest protection of forest corridors to maintain gene flow in this landscape.
Project description:Even with global support for tiger (Panthera tigris) conservation their survival is threatened by poaching, habitat loss and isolation. Currently about 3,000 wild tigers persist in small fragmented populations within seven percent of their historic range. Identifying and securing habitat linkages that connect source populations for maintaining landscape-level gene flow is an important long-term conservation strategy for endangered carnivores. However, habitat corridors that link regional tiger populations are often lost to development projects due to lack of objective evidence on their importance. Here, we use individual based genetic analysis in combination with landscape permeability models to identify and prioritize movement corridors across seven tiger populations within the Central Indian Landscape. By using a panel of 11 microsatellites we identified 169 individual tigers from 587 scat and 17 tissue samples. We detected four genetic clusters within Central India with limited gene flow among three of them. Bayesian and likelihood analyses identified 17 tigers as having recent immigrant ancestry. Spatially explicit tiger occupancy obtained from extensive landscape-scale surveys across 76,913 km(2) of forest habitat was found to be only 21,290 km(2). After accounting for detection bias, the covariates that best explained tiger occupancy were large, remote, dense forest patches; large ungulate abundance, and low human footprint. We used tiger occupancy probability to parameterize habitat permeability for modeling habitat linkages using least-cost and circuit theory pathway analyses. Pairwise genetic differences (FST) between populations were better explained by modeled linkage costs (r>0.5, p<0.05) compared to Euclidean distances, which was in consonance with observed habitat fragmentation. The results of our study highlight that many corridors may still be functional as there is evidence of contemporary migration. Conservation efforts should provide legal status to corridors, use smart green infrastructure to mitigate development impacts, and restore habitats where connectivity has been lost.
Project description:Landscape genetics is increasingly being used in landscape planning for biodiversity conservation by assessing habitat connectivity and identifying landscape barriers, using intraspecific genetic data and quantification of landscape heterogeneity to statistically test the link between genetic variation and landscape variability. In this study we used genetic data to understand how landscape features and environmental factors influence demographic connectedness in Europe's largest brown bear population and to assist in mitigating planned infrastructure development in Romania. Model-based clustering inferred one large and continuous bear population across the Carpathians suggesting that suitable bear habitat has not become sufficiently fragmented to restrict movement of individuals. However, at a finer scale, large rivers, often located alongside large roads with heavy traffic, were found to restrict gene flow significantly, while eastern facing slopes promoted genetic exchange. Since the proposed highway infrastructure development threatens to fragment regions of the Carpathians where brown bears occur, we develop a decision support tool based on models that assess the landscape configuration needed for brown bear conservation using wildlife corridor parameters. Critical brown bear corridors were identified through spatial mapping and connectivity models, which may be negatively influenced by infrastructure development and which therefore require mitigation. We recommend that current and proposed infrastructure developments incorporate these findings into their design and where possible avoid construction measures that may further fragment Romania's brown bear population or include mitigation measures where alternative routes are not feasible.
Project description:With fewer than 200 tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) left in Nepal, that are generally confined to five protected areas across the Terai Arc Landscape, genetic studies are needed to provide crucial information on diversity and connectivity for devising an effective country-wide tiger conservation strategy. As part of the Nepal Tiger Genome Project, we studied landscape change, genetic variation, population structure, and gene flow of tigers across the Terai Arc Landscape by conducting Nepal's first comprehensive and systematic scat-based, non-invasive genetic survey. Of the 770 scat samples collected opportunistically from five protected areas and six presumed corridors, 412 were tiger (57%). Out of ten microsatellite loci, we retain eight markers that were used in identifying 78 individual tigers. We used this dataset to examine population structure, genetic variation, contemporary gene flow, and potential population bottlenecks of tigers in Nepal. We detected three genetic clusters consistent with three demographic sub-populations and found moderate levels of genetic variation (He = 0.61, AR = 3.51) and genetic differentiation (FST = 0.14) across the landscape. We detected 3-7 migrants, confirming the potential for dispersal-mediated gene flow across the landscape. We found evidence of a bottleneck signature likely caused by large-scale land-use change documented in the last two centuries in the Terai forest. Securing tiger habitat including functional forest corridors is essential to enhance gene flow across the landscape and ensure long-term tiger survival. This requires cooperation among multiple stakeholders and careful conservation planning to prevent detrimental effects of anthropogenic activities on tigers.
Project description:Despite massive global conservation strategies, tiger populations continued to decline until recently, mainly due to habitat loss, human-animal conflicts, and poaching. These factors are known to affect the genetic characteristics of tiger populations and decrease local effective population sizes. The Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) at the foothills of the Himalaya is one of the 42 source sites of tigers around the globe. Therefore, information on how landscape features and anthropogenic factors affect the fine-scale spatial genetic structure and variation of tigers in TAL is needed to develop proper management strategies for achieving long-term conservation goals. We document, for the first time, the genetic characteristics of this tiger population by genotyping 71 tiger samples using 13 microsatellite markers from the western region of TAL (WTAL) of 1800 km2. Specifically, we aimed to estimate the genetic variability, population structure, and gene flow. The microsatellite markers indicated that the levels of allelic diversity (MNA = 6.6) and genetic variation (Ho = 0.50, HE = 0.64) were slightly lower than those reported previously in other Bengal tiger populations. We observed moderate gene flow and significant genetic differentiation (FST= 0.060) and identified the presence of cryptic genetic structure using Bayesian and non-Bayesian approaches. There was low and significantly asymmetric migration between the two main subpopulations of the Rajaji Tiger Reserve and the Corbett Tiger Reserve in WTAL. Sibship relationships indicated that the functionality of the corridor between these subpopulations may be retained if the quality of the habitat does not deteriorate. However, we found that gene flow is not adequate in view of changing land use matrices. We discuss the need to maintain connectivity by implementing the measures that have been suggested previously to minimize the level of human disturbance, including relocation of villages and industries, prevention of encroachment, and banning sand and boulder mining in the corridors.
Project description:Winter recreation and tourism continue to expand worldwide, and where these activities overlap with valuable wildlife habitat, there is greater potential for conservation concerns. Wildlife populations can be particularly vulnerable to disturbance in alpine habitats as helicopters and snowmachines are increasingly used to access remote backcountry terrain. Brown bears (Ursus arctos) have adapted hibernation strategies to survive this period when resources and energy reserves are limited, and disturbance could negatively impact fitness and survival. To help identify areas of potential conflict between helicopter skiing and denning brown bears in Alaska, we developed a model to predict alpine denning habitat and an associated data-based framework for mitigating disturbance activities. Following den emergence in spring, we conducted three annual aerial surveys (2015-2017) and used locations from three GPS-collared bears (2008-2014) to identify 89 brown bear dens above the forest line. We evaluated brown bear den site selection of land cover, terrain, and climate factors using resource selection function (RSF) models. Our top model supported the hypothesis that bears selected dens based on terrain and climate factors that maximized thermal efficiency. Brown bears selected den sites characterized by steep slopes at moderate elevations in smooth, well-drained topographies that promoted vegetation and deep snow. We used the RSF model to map relative probability of den selection and found 85% of dens occurred within terrain predicted as prime denning habitat. Brown bear exposure to helicopter disturbance was evident as moderate to high intensities of helicopter flight tracking data overlapped prime denning habitat, and we quantified where the risk of these impact was greatest. We also documented evidence of late season den abandonment due to disturbance from helicopter skiing. The results from this study provide valuable insights into bear denning habitat requirements in subalpine and alpine landscapes. Our quantitative framework can be used to support conservation planning for winter recreation industries operating in habitats occupied by denning brown bears.
Project description:Sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) caused the highest number of human deaths between 2001 and 2015 and ranked second compared to other wild animals in causing human casualties in the Kanha-Pench corridor area. We studied the patterns of sloth bear attacks in the region to understand the reasons for conflict. We interviewed 166 victims of sloth bear attacks which occurred between 2004 and 2016 and found that most attacks occurred in forests (81%), with the greatest number of those (42%) occurring during the collection of Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP), 15% during the collection of fuelwood and 13% during grazing of livestock. The remainder took place at forest edges or in agricultural fields (19%), most occurring when person(s) were working in fields (7%), defecating (5%), or engaged in construction work (3%). Most victims were between the ages of 31 to 50 (57%) and most (54%) were members of the Gond tribe. The majority of attacks occurred in summer (40%) followed by monsoon (35%) and winter (25%). Forty-four percent of victims were rescued by people, while 43% of the time bears retreated by themselves. In 60% of attacks, a single bear was involved, whereas 25% involved adult females with dependent cubs and the remainder (15%) of the cases involved a pair of bears. We discuss the compensation program for attack victims as well as other governmental programs which can help reduce conflict. Finally, we recommend short-term mitigation measures for forest-dependent communities.
Project description:Ursine bears are a mammalian subfamily that comprises six morphologically and ecologically distinct extant species. Previous phylogenetic analyses of concatenated nuclear genes could not resolve all relationships among bears, and appeared to conflict with the mitochondrial phylogeny. Evolutionary processes such as incomplete lineage sorting and introgression can cause gene tree discordance and complicate phylogenetic inferences, but are not accounted for in phylogenetic analyses of concatenated data. We generated a high-resolution data set of autosomal introns from several individuals per species and of Y-chromosomal markers. Incorporating intraspecific variability in coalescence-based phylogenetic and gene flow estimation approaches, we traced the genealogical history of individual alleles. Considerable heterogeneity among nuclear loci and discordance between nuclear and mitochondrial phylogenies were found. A species tree with divergence time estimates indicated that ursine bears diversified within less than 2 My. Consistent with a complex branching order within a clade of Asian bear species, we identified unidirectional gene flow from Asian black into sloth bears. Moreover, gene flow detected from brown into American black bears can explain the conflicting placement of the American black bear in mitochondrial and nuclear phylogenies. These results highlight that both incomplete lineage sorting and introgression are prominent evolutionary forces even on time scales up to several million years. Complex evolutionary patterns are not adequately captured by strictly bifurcating models, and can only be fully understood when analyzing multiple independently inherited loci in a coalescence framework. Phylogenetic incongruence among gene trees hence needs to be recognized as a biologically meaningful signal.
Project description:The Tiger (Panthera tigris) population in India has undergone a sharp decline during the last few years. Of the number of factors attributed to this decline, habitat fragmentation has been the most worrisome. Wildlife corridors have long been a subject of discussion amongst wildlife biologists and conservationists with contrasting schools of thought arguing their merits and demerits. However, it is largely believed that wildlife corridors can help minimize genetic isolation, offset fragmentation problems, improve animal dispersal, restore ecological processes and reduce man animal conflict. This study attempted to evaluate the possibilities of identifying a suitable wildlife corridor between two very important wildlife areas of central India--the Kanha National Park and the Pench National Park--with tiger as the focal species. Geographic Information System (GIS) centric Least Cost Path modeling was used to identify likely routes for movement of tigers. Habitat suitability, perennial water bodies, road density, railway tracks, human settlement density and total forest edge were considered as key variables influencing tiger movement across the Kanha-Pench landscape. Each of these variables was weighted in terms of relative importance through an expert consultation process. Using different importance scenarios, three alternate corridor routes were generated of which one was identified as the most promising for tiger dispersal. Weak links--where cover and habitat conditions are currently sub-optimal--were flagged on the corridor route. Interventions aimed at augmenting the identified corridor route have been suggested using accepted wildlife corridor design principles. The involvement of local communities through initiatives such as ecotourism has been stressed as a crucial long term strategy for conservation of the Kanha-Pench wildlife corridor. The results of the study indicate that restoration of the identified wildlife corridors between the two protected areas is technically feasible.