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The genetic tale of a recovering lion population (Panthera leo) in the Save Valley region (Zimbabwe): A better understanding of the history and managing the future.


ABSTRACT: The rapid decline of the African lion (Panthera leo) has raised conservation concerns. In the Savé Valley Conservancy (SVC), in the Lowveld of Zimbabwe, lions were presumably reduced to approximately 5 to 10 individuals. After ten lions were reintroduced in 2005, the population has recovered to over 200 lions in 2016. Although the increase of lions in the SVC seems promising, a question remains whether the population is genetically viable, considering their small founding population. In this study, we document the genetic diversity in the SVC lion population using both mitochondrial and nuclear genetic markers, and compare our results to literature from other lion populations across Africa. We also tested whether genetic diversity is spatially structured between lion populations residing on several reserves in the Lowveld of Zimbabwe. A total of 42 lions were genotyped successfully for 11 microsatellite loci. We confirmed that the loss of allelic richness (probably resulting from genetic drift and small number of founders) has resulted in low genetic diversity and inbreeding. The SVC lion population was also found to be genetically differentiated from surrounding population, as a result of genetic drift and restricted natural dispersal due to anthropogenic barriers. From a conservation perspective, it is important to avoid further loss of genetic variability in the SVC lion population and maintain evolutionary potential required for future survival. Genetic restoration through the introduction of unrelated individuals is recommended, as this will increase genetic heterozygosity and improve survival and reproductive fitness in populations.

SUBMITTER: Tensen L 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC5802433 | BioStudies | 2018-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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