The contrasting genetic patterns of two sympatric flying fox species from the Comoros and the implications for conservation
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Pteropus livingstonii and Pteropus seychellensis comorensis are endemic fruit bat species that are among the most threatened animals in the Comoros archipelago. Both species are pollinators and seed dispersers of native and cultivated plants and are thus of crucial importance for the regeneration of natural forests as well as for cultivated plantations. However, these species are subject to strong anthropogenic pressures and face one of the highest rates of natural habitat loss reported worldwide. Yet little is known about the population genetic structure of these two species, making it difficult to define relevant conservation strategies. In this study, we investigated for the two flying fox species (1) the level of genetic diversity within islands, as well as across the archipelago and (2) the genetic structure between the two islands (Anjouan and Mohéli) for P. livingstonii and between the four islands of the archipelago (Anjouan, Mohéli, Grande Comore and Mayotte) for P. s. comorensis using mitochondrial and microsatellite markers. The results revealed contrasting patterns of genetic structure, with P. s. comorensis showing low genetic structure between islands, whereas P. livingstonii exhibited high levels of inter-island genetic differentiation. Overall, the genetic analyses showed low genetic diversity for both species. These contrasting genetic patterns may be the result of different dispersal patterns and the populations’ evolutionary histories. Our findings lead us to suggest that in terms of conservation strategy, the two populations of P. livingstonii (on Anjouan and Mohéli islands) should be considered as two separate management units. We recommend focusing conservation efforts on the Anjouan population, which is the largest, exhibits the highest genetic diversity, and suffers the greatest anthropogenic pressure. As for P. s. comorensis, its four populations could be considered as a single unit for conservation management purposes. For this species, we recommend protecting roosting trees to reduce population disturbance.
KeywordsComoros islands Colonization history Dispersal Conservation management units Flying foxes Population genetics
We would like to thank the Comoros Department of the Environment and Forests, the University of Comoros, for granting permission on Anjouan, Mohéli and Grande Comore to carry out our field work and export samples (N° 002/KM/15/DNEF). For the field work on Mayotte, permits were issued by the Department of the Environment, Land Use and Housing (DEAL). We are grateful to the Mayotte National Forest Agency and Departmental Council and the non-profit organization Naturalistes Environnement et Patrimoine de Mayotte for allowing animal capture on conservation sites. The field work was funded through a Research Support Grant from the Rufford Foundation (Grant Number 19010-1 to Ali Cheha) and by the French National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS) Institute of Ecology and the Environment (ECOSAN BatMan). The laboratory analyses were partly funded by the Islamic Development Bank (IDB). The data used in this study was obtained using the technical equipment at the Degraded DNA and Genotyping-sequencing platforms at the LabEx CeMEB laboratory (Montpellier, France). We would also like to thank Eric Petit for his guidance during the genetic analysis. Finally, we are grateful to the two anonymous reviewers of this manuscript; they provided extensive and critical corrections and comments for the improvement.
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