Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 1291–1308 | Cite as

The curious case of Bradypus variegatus sloths: populations in threatened habitats are biodiversity components needing protection

  • Sofia Marques Silva
  • José A. Dávila
  • Bryson Voirin
  • Susana Lopes
  • Nuno Ferrand
  • Nadia Moraes-Barros
Original Paper


Studying Neotropical wild populations is of particular interest. While this region is facing an escalating habitat degradation, it also has remarkable biodiversity levels, whose origin we are only beginning to understand. A myriad of processes might have had idiosyncratic effects on its numerous species. Within the hottest Neotropical biodiversity hotspot, the Atlantic Forest (AF), species and genetic diversities are organized latitudinally, with decreasing diversity levels southwards. Bradypus variegatus, the brown-throated three-toed sloth, was one of the first species observed to present such pattern. Moreover, within AF, B. variegatus populations seem to be geographically isolated and genetically differentiated. Whether AF B. variegatus isolation, differentiation, and loss of genetic diversity are historical or contemporary (anthropogenic-driven), result from species-specific or general historical events, and if this is of conservation concern remains unclear. Here, we combine micro-evolutionary, multilocus, and high-throughput sequencing approaches to detail the processes responsible for the patterns of genetic diversity on B. variegatus populations in AF, and further understand AF biogeographic history. Few studies made use of similar approaches on Neotropical biodiversity. Our results agree with recent re-interpretations on the AF refugia model and support a species-specific refugium in southern AF, characterized by a metapopulation formation. Finally, we present compelling evidences of the need for conservation actions on AF B. variegatus populations, by comparing genetic diversity levels between populations of different Bradypus species. As far as we know, this is the most comprehensive assessment on Bradypus nuclear DNA diversity.


Bradypus pygmaeus Bradypus torquatus Microsatellite loci Next-generation sequencing Nuclear DNA sequences Quaternary climate changes 



Authors acknowledge J. Morgante for all his support, IREC, CTM and LABEC staffs for technical support, and those who helped with sampling: Parque Ambiental Chico Mendes (J. Guimarães and Sr. Josué), LNN-UFPA (P. Sousa); Zoo-CE (Vets. Lucio and Leandro), CETAS-CE (A. Klefasz), CETAS-PB (E. Victor), CETAS-AL (M. Belluci), CETAS-BA (M.C. Pires), UFPE (J.A. Feijó, D.A. Moraes and J.E. Garcia), Retiro Ecológico (R. Siqueira and Sr. Lenilson), UFC (Felipe), UFPB (F. Barros, M. Lima and U. Gonçalves), MHN UFAL (J. Luiz), Instituto Maracajá (S. Chinem and M. Motta), DEPAVE-SP (J. Summa and M.E. Summa), A. Oliveira, C. Clozato, and many others without whom would not be possible to have such sampling effort. We acknowledge the anonymous researchers for very helpful comments on an earlier version on the manuscript. S.M.S. had an FCT PhD Grant (SFRH/BD/40638/2007), and a PNPD/CAPES fellowship at PPGZOO MPEG/UFPA. NM-B was supported by Capes, EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (No 286431) and NORTE-01-0145-FEDER-000007.

Supplementary material

10531_2017_1493_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (299 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 298 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LABEC, Departamento de Genética e Biologia Evolutiva, Instituto de BiociênciasUniversidade de São PauloSão PauloBrazil
  2. 2.CIBIO/InBioUniversidade do PortoVairãoPortugal
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyMPEGBelémBrazil
  4. 4.IREC, CSIC-UCLM-JCCMCiudad RealSpain
  5. 5.Max-Planck Institute for OrnithologySeewiesenGermany
  6. 6.California Academy of SciencesSan FranciscoUSA

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