Social and genetic population structure of free-ranging cheetah in Botswana: implications for conservation
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Once widely distributed throughout Africa, cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) occur today within fragmented populations and are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. Botswana currently hosts the second largest cheetah population throughout the species’ range. This study initiated a molecular genetic survey of wild Botswana cheetah populations. It focused on the relatedness within presumed social groups using 14 microsatellite markers and revealed a higher proportion of unrelated male coalitions than was expected. Based on the unrelated cheetahs only, the estimation of the genetic variation corresponded with results from recent studies on different African populations. The analysis of unrelated individuals indicated limited genetic differentiation between cheetahs from different regions of Botswana. This suggests that the Botswana cheetah population might represent a unique panmictic population as long as sufficient levels of gene flow are maintained within the distribution range. This baseline information will now be incorporated to develop management strategies and set priorities for cheetah conservation in Botswana.
KeywordsAcinonyx jubatus Microsatellite markers Social and population structure Botswana
This study was supported by Cheetah Conservation Botswana. Dr Kyle Good, Femcke Brokehuis and the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust for the collection of cheetah blood samples. We appreciate the continued support of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Botswana. We acknowledge the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG), a national research facility of the National Research Foundation of South Africa for the financial support. All laboratory work was performed at the Centre for Conservation Science of the NZG. We are most grateful to C. Fernandes and P. Burger for reviewing the manuscript. P. Charruau acknowledges the support from the Austrian Science Foundation (FWF) #P1084-B17 grant allocated to P. Burger.
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