Conservation Genetics

, 9:1589 | Cite as

Establishing the foundation for an applied molecular taxonomy of otters in Southeast Asia

  • Klaus-Peter Koepfli
  • Budsabong Kanchanasaka
  • Hiroshi Sasaki
  • Hélène Jacques
  • Kristina D. Y. Louie
  • Toanvong Hoai
  • Nguyen Xuan Dang
  • Eli Geffen
  • Arno Gutleb
  • Sung-yong Han
  • Thrine M. Heggberget
  • Lionel LaFontaine
  • Hang Lee
  • Roland Melisch
  • Jordi Ruiz-Olmo
  • Margarida Santos-Reis
  • Vadim E. Sidorovich
  • Michael Stubbe
  • Robert K. Wayne
Research Article


Four species of otters (Mustelidae, Lutrinae) occur in Southeast Asia and are considered to be of conservation concern: Aonyx cinerea (Asian small-clawed otter), Lutra lutra (Eurasian otter), Lutra sumatrana (Hairy-nosed otter), and Lutrogale perspicillata (Smooth-coated otter). Among these, L. sumatrana is endemic to the region, yet little is known about its biology, and the precise distribution of all four species in Southeast Asia is not well known. Furthermore, the taxonomy and systematics of L. sumatrana and L. perspicillata have been the subject of controversy, which has implications for the legal protection and for conservation programs of these taxa. To resolve these controversies, we used a multigene data set comprised of segments from 13 nuclear and 5 mitochondrial loci (11,180 nucleotides) to evaluate the phylogenetic relationships of Asian Old World otters. Phylogenies were also estimated using two mitochondrial loci (1,832 nucleotides) obtained from two or more individuals of the four Southeast Asian species. The results from maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian inference showed that L. sumatrana and L. lutra are sister taxa, whereas L. perspicillata is sister to A. cinerea. Furthermore, the results from the two-mitochondrial gene analyses indicate that L. sumatrana is reciprocally monophyletic with respect to L. lutra, supporting the specific validity of the former taxon. Signs such as tracks and feces are often used in field surveys to provide information on the distribution and abundance of otters, but the accuracy of these methods may be compromised when several closely related species occur sympatrically. Therefore, the two-gene data set was used to develop a provisional set of diagnostic nucleotides that can be potentially used to identify the four species of Southeast Asian otters from noninvasively collected biological samples, such as feces.


Otter Lutrinae Lutra sumatrana Molecular phylogeny Molecular taxonomy Southeast Asia Conservation genetics 



This paper is dedicated with great fondness to the late Claus Reuther for his tireless efforts on behalf of otter conservation worldwide and for his unwavering encouragement and guidance of those doing research on otters and their habitats. He will be sorely missed. We are very grateful to John F. Dallas and Chris Mason for providing tissue samples from Lutra lutra, and to Gerard Willemsen for valuable discussion and insights on otter taxonomy. We thank Graham Slater for review and comments on the manuscript. This study was supported by a National Science Foundation grant (BSR 0614585) awarded to R.K. Wayne.

Supplementary material

10592_2007_9498_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (188 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Klaus-Peter Koepfli
    • 1
  • Budsabong Kanchanasaka
    • 2
  • Hiroshi Sasaki
    • 3
  • Hélène Jacques
    • 4
  • Kristina D. Y. Louie
    • 1
  • Toanvong Hoai
    • 1
  • Nguyen Xuan Dang
    • 5
  • Eli Geffen
    • 6
  • Arno Gutleb
    • 7
  • Sung-yong Han
    • 8
  • Thrine M. Heggberget
    • 9
  • Lionel LaFontaine
    • 10
  • Hang Lee
    • 11
  • Roland Melisch
    • 12
  • Jordi Ruiz-Olmo
    • 13
  • Margarida Santos-Reis
    • 14
  • Vadim E. Sidorovich
    • 15
  • Michael Stubbe
    • 16
  • Robert K. Wayne
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Royal Forest DepartmentWildlife Research DivisionBangkokThailand
  3. 3.Chikushi Jogakuen University Junior CollegeDazaifuJapan
  4. 4.Société Francaise pour L′Etude et al Protection des MammiferesParisFrance
  5. 5.Department of ZoologyInstitute of Ecology and Biological ResourcesHanoiVietnam
  6. 6.Department of ZoologyTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael
  7. 7.Department of Production Animal Clinical Science, Norwegian School of Veterinary ScienceSection for Stationary ClinicOsloNorway
  8. 8.Korean Otter Research CenterHanam, HwacheonSouth Korea
  9. 9.Norwegian Institute for Nature ResearchTrondheimNorway
  10. 10.LutrAtlanticaLocquenoleFrance
  11. 11.Conservation Genome Resource Bank for Korean Wildlife, College of Veterinary Medicine and BK21 Program for Veterinary ScienceSeoul National UniversitySeoulSouth Korea
  12. 12.TRAFFIC International, c/o WWF GermanyFrankfurtGermany
  13. 13.Servei de Protecció i Gestió de la FaunaDirecció general del Patrimoni Natural i del Medi FisicBarcelonaSpain
  14. 14.Faculdade de Ciências de Lisboa, Centro de Biologia Ambiental/Departamento de Biologia AnimalUniversidade de LisboaLisboaPortugal
  15. 15.Vertebrate Predation Research Group, Institute of ZoologyNational Academy of Sciences of BelarusMinskBelarus
  16. 16.Institute of ZoologyMartin-Luther-University Halle-WittenbergHalle (Saale)Germany

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