Population genetic structure and connectivity in the endangered Ethiopian mountain Nyala (Tragelaphus buxtoni): recommending dispersal corridors for future conservation
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- Atickem, A., Rueness, E.K., Loe, L.E. et al. Conserv Genet (2013) 14: 427. doi:10.1007/s10592-013-0450-6
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Habitat fragmentation is an increasing threat to wildlife species across the globe and it has been predicted that future biodiversity will decrease rapidly without the intervention of scientifically-based management. In this study we have applied a landscape genetics approach to suggest a network design that will maintain connectivity among populations of the endangered mountain Nyala (Tragelaphus buxtoni) in the fragmented highlands of Ethiopia. DNA was obtained non-invasively from 328 individuals and genetic population structure and gene flow were estimated using 12 microsatellite markers. In addition, a 475-bp segment of the mitochondrial control region was sequenced for 132 individuals. Potential dispersal corridors were determined from least-cost path analysis based on a habitat suitability map. The genetic data indicated limited gene flow between the sampled mountain Nyala populations of the Bale Massif and the Arsi Massif. The genetic differentiation observed among five sampling areas of the Bale Massif followed a pattern of isolation by distance. We detected no impact of habitat resistance on the gene flow. In the future, however, the current expanding human population in the highlands of Ethiopia may reduce the current mountain Nyala habitat and further limit migration. Hence, maintaining habitat connectivity and facilitating survival of stepping-stone populations will be important for the future conservation of the species. The approach used here may also be useful for the study and conservation of other wildlife species inhabiting areas of increasing human encroachment.