Conservation Genetics

, Volume 8, Issue 5, pp 1199–1207 | Cite as

Sustainability of the South China tiger: implications of inbreeding depression and introgression

  • Y. C. Xu
  • S. G. FangEmail author
  • Z. K. Li
Original Paper


The South China tiger (Panther tigris amoyensis) is critically endangered with 73 remaining individuals living in captivity, all derived from six wild founders since 1963. The population shows a low level of juvenile survivorship and reproductive difficulties, and faces a huge conservation challenge. In this study, inbreeding depression and genetic diversity decline were examined by using pedigree data and 17 microsatellites. The constant B, which is related to the number of lethal equivalents, was estimated to be 0 for the offspring of noninbred parents, but was >0 for the offspring of inbred parents and for all offspring. Percentage of successfully breeding tigers inversely correlated with inbreeding level (r = −0.626, α = 0.05). Taken together, these findings suggest the population is suffering from inbreeding depression in juvenile survivorship and fecundity. No significant correlation was detectable for the mean litter size with f of either dams (r = −0.305, α = 0.46) or kittens (r = 0.105, α = 0.71), indicating litter size was not strongly subject to inbreeding depression. The average number of alleles per locus was 4.24 ± 1.03 (SE), but effective number of alleles was only 2.53 ± 0.91. Twenty-one alleles carried by early breeders at 13 loci were absent in the present breeders and potential breeders. Multilocus heterozygosity was inversely correlated with inbreeding levels (r = −0.601, α = 0.004). These findings suggest rapid allelic diversity loss is occurring in this small captive population and that heterozygosity is being lost as it becomes more inbred. Our phylogenetic analysis supports past work indicating introgression from northern Indochinese tigers in the population. As no wild representatives of the South China tiger can be added to the captive population, we may consider the alternate scenario of further introgression in the interest of countering inbreeding depression and declining genetic diversity.


South China tiger Panthera tigris amoyensis Inbreeding depression Genetic diversity Introgression 



This work was supported by grants from the State Key Basic Research and Development Plan of China (G2000046906), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (30300039) and the Key Scientific Research Project of the Ministry of Education of China (02094). Special thanks go to two anonymous reviewers. We are very grateful to Yu Zhong Yin, Gong Qing Huang, Wen Yang Gu, Ai Shan Wang, Wen Li Guo, Qing Yong Shen, and Jian Rong Wang for their help in collecting demographic data. We thank Paul L. Leberg, Barry K. Hartup and Mark Morgan for editing the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Life Sciences, State Conservation Center for Gene Resources of Endangered Wildlife, and the Key Laboratory of Conservation Genetics and Reproductive Biology for Endangered Wild Animals of the Ministry of EducationZhejiang UniversityHangzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.College of Wildlife ResourcesNortheast Forestry UniversityHarbinPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Shanghai Zoological ParkShanghaiPeople’s Republic of China

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