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Genetic diversity and spatial genetic structure of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in the Greater Limpopo transfrontier conservation area

Tensen, Laura, Groom, Rosemary J., van Belkom, Joep, Davies-Mostert, Harriet T., Marnewick, Kelly, Jansen van Vuuren, Bettine
Conservation genetics 2016 v.17 no.4 pp. 785-794
Lycaon pictus, conservation areas, dogs, gene flow, genetic drift, genetic variation, habitat fragmentation, habitats, heterozygosity, hosts, humans, inbreeding, national parks, survival rate
The Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA) is one of the last refuges for the endangered African wild dog and hosts roughly one-tenth of the global population. Wild dogs in this area are currently threatened by human encroachment, habitat fragmentation and scarcity of suitable connecting habitat between protected areas. We derived genetic data from mitochondrial and nuclear markers to test the following hypotheses: (i) demographic declines in wild dogs have caused a loss of genetic variation, and (ii) Zimbabwean and South African populations in the GLTFCA have diverged due to the effects of isolation and genetic drift. Genetic patterns among five populations, taken with comparisons to known information, illustrate that allelic richness and heterozygosity have been lost over time, presumably due to effects of inbreeding and genetic drift. Genetic structuring has occurred due to low dispersal rates, which was most apparent between Kruger National Park and the Zimbabwean Lowveld. Immediate strategies to improve gene flow should focus on increasing the quality of habitat corridors between reserves in the GLTFCA and securing higher wild dog survival rates in unprotected areas, with human-mediated translocation only undertaken as a last resort.