Noninvasive genetic analyses for estimating population size and genetic diversity of the remaining Far Eastern leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) population
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- Sugimoto, T., Aramilev, V.V., Kerley, L.L. et al. Conserv Genet (2014) 15: 521. doi:10.1007/s10592-013-0558-8
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Understanding and monitoring the population status of endangered species is vital for developing appropriate management interventions. We used noninvasive genetic analyses to obtain ecological and genetic data on the last remaining Far Eastern leopard population in the world. During seven winters from 2000–2001 to 2007–2008, we collected feces, hair, and saliva from most of the leopard habitat. Of the 239 leopard samples collected during the study period, 155 were successfully genotyped at 13 microsatellite loci and 37 individuals (18 males and 19 females) were identified. Population size estimates based on the Capwire model were 28 (95 % CI 19–38) in 2002–03 and 26 (95 % CI 13–33) in 2007–2008. The leopard population had a low level of genetic diversity (expected and observed heterozygosity = 0.43; average number of alleles per locus = 2.62), and effective population size was estimated to be low (Ne = 7–16) by two genetic-based methods. We observed little improvement in the genetic diversity during the study period and did find an indication of allele loss compared with individuals from the mid-1990s, suggesting that the remaining population will continue to suffer loss of genetic diversity. Given the small population size and the low genetic diversity, with little expectation of replenishment of the genetic variation by natural immigration, successful expansion of available habitat and development of a second population based on captive individuals may be crucial for persistence of this leopard subspecies in the wild.