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The coat pattern in the Carpathian population of Eurasian lynx has changed: a sign of demographic bottleneck and limited connectivity

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Abstract

Highly heritable phenotypic traits become prevalent in small populations. We estimated the heritability of the coat pattern of the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) in captive individuals, and we explored changes in the proportions of three phenotypes (spotted, rosetted and uniform) in the wild-ranging native population in the Slovak Carpathians over the last six decades. Coat pattern was highly heritable in each geographically defined subspecies, as offspring greatly resembled their parents. In the last decades, we have recorded a significantly lowered proportion of spotted individuals in the native Carpathian population, which have represented a phenotype characteristic for this lineage (subspecies) and were predominant in the past. The proportion of spots and rosettes was equalised in the population during the most recent period, while the smallest, most depleted population sub-range was even dominated by the rosetted phenotype. The rapid change in the frequency of dominant phenotype may be attributed to the small population size with limited gene flow to marginal sub-ranges. High intensity traffic development and anthropogenic-induced mortality are suggested to be the primary factors that fragment the local population and reduce the number of reproducing lynx in the region. The Slovak lynx population is the main source for lynx reintroduction projects in Central Europe, and so the phenotype profile may be used as an effective indicator of potential genetic-based conservation problems in this autochthonous population.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the many individuals and institutions that kindly contributed to our study with their pedigree data or photographs of wild-ranging individuals, in particular: Tierpark Dählhölzli, Bern (Switzerland); Anja Dube, Tierpark Chemnitz (Germany); Ilona Schappert, Zoo Dortmund (Germany); Dudley Zoological Gardens (United Kingdom); Zoo Košice (Slovakia); Petra Bolechová, Zoo Liberec (Czechia); Port Lympne Wild Animal Park (United Kingdom); Zoologischer Garten Magdeburg (Germany); Sam Harley, Newquay Zoo and Animal Wildlife Park (United Kingdom); Parc de la Haute Touche (France); Zoo Olomouc (Czechia); Adéla Obračajová, Zoo Ostrava (Czechia); Parc Zoologique de Fort Mardyck, Dunkerque (France); Michaela Jerhotová, Zoo Ohrada Hluboká (Czechia); Guna Vitola and Elina Gulbe, Riga Zoo, Darzs (Latvia); Tiit Maran, Tallinn Zoo (Estonia); Natalia Fofonova, Yakutsk Orto Doidu Zoo (Russia); Moscow Zoo (Russia); Olga V. Shilo, Novosibirsk Zoo (Russia); Tierpark Berlin (Germany); Karina Schou, Skærup Mini Zoo (Denmark); Šarišské múzeum, Bardejov (Slovakia) ; and Branislav Tám, National Zoo Bojnice (Slovakia). Two anonymous reviewers are greatly acknowledged for valuable comments and suggestions which helped to improve our work.

Funding

This study was funded by the Slovak Scientific Grant Agency VEGA (grant no. 2/0077/17) and the European Commission (LIFE13 NAT/DE/000755; LIFE16 NAT/SL/000634).

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Kubala, J., Gregorová, E., Smolko, P. et al. The coat pattern in the Carpathian population of Eurasian lynx has changed: a sign of demographic bottleneck and limited connectivity. Eur J Wildl Res 66, 2 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-019-1338-7

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