Genetic structure and expansion of golden jackals (Canis aureus) in the north-western distribution range (Croatia and eastern Italian Alps)
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- Fabbri, E., Caniglia, R., Galov, A. et al. Conserv Genet (2014) 15: 187. doi:10.1007/s10592-013-0530-7
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The golden jackal, widely distributed in Europe, Asia and Africa, is one of the less studied carnivores in the world and the genetic structure of the European populations is unknown. In the last century jackals strongly declined mainly due to human persecution, but recently they expanded again in eastern Europe. With the aim to determine the genetic structure and the origin of expanding jackals, we analyzed population samples obtained from Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia (Dalmatia and Slavonia) and individuals sampled in north-eastern Italy. Samples were typed at the hypervariable part of the mitochondrial DNA control-region (mtDNA CR1) and at 15 canine autosomal microsatellite loci (STR), and analyzed using multivariate, Bayesian and landscape genetic methods. The mtDNA CR1 was monomorphic, showing a single haplotype shared among all the populations. The STR loci were variable, with 2–14 alleles and intermediate values of heterozygosity (Ho = 0.47; He = 0.51). Genetic diversity was significantly partitioned (θST = 0.07; P < 0.001) and the populations were partially distinct, perhaps in consequence of recent fragmentations. Jackals from Dalmatia were the most genetically differentiated. Assignment testing and gene flow analyses suggested that jackals colonizing Italy have admixed origins from Dalmatian and Slavonian populations. They are not first generation migrants, suggesting that dispersal towards north-eastern Italy is a stepping-stone process. Golden jackal and wolf colonization patterns might be different, with prevalent short-distance dispersal in jackals versus prevalent long distance dispersal in wolves. The admixed origin of jackals in the Alps ensures abundant genetic variability, which may enhance adaptive fitness and expectancy of population growth. The intersections between Dinaric–Balkan and Eastern Alps are areas of population expansion and admixture, highlighting their conservation, ecological and evolutionary values.