Conservation Genetics

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 413–422 | Cite as

Genetic diversity, social structure, and conservation value of the elephants of the Nakai Plateau, Lao PDR, based on non-invasive sampling

  • Marissa A. Ahlering
  • Simon Hedges
  • Arlyne Johnson
  • Martin Tyson
  • Stephanie G. Schuttler
  • Lori S. EggertEmail author
Research Article


The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) may have the largest Asian elephant population in Indochina. However, elephants on Lao PDR’s Nakai Plateau are potentially threatened by the construction of a hydropower dam that will flood important habitat. We conducted a non-invasive genetic study of elephants in this region to provide baseline data on genetic diversity and social structure prior to dam construction. For the 102 elephants we detected, values of observed heterozygosity (0.711) and allelic diversity (8.0 alleles/locus) at microsatellite loci were higher than those found in elephant populations in India and Vietnam, while mitochondrial diversity (haplotype diversity 0.741; nucleotide diversity 0.011) was similar to that reported for the Lao/Vietnam region. Six mitochondrial haplotypes were detected, representing both major clades previously reported in this species. Relatedness estimates between females and young detected near each other are consistent with familial relationships, and relatedness estimates between adult males and females suggest male locational dispersal. Since family group structure appears to be intact in the Nakai region, these elephants will likely move as relatively large family groups in response to habitat disturbance. These results have positive implications for the viability of the elephant population in this region, demonstrate its conservation significance, and will be valuable for predicting and monitoring the effects of the hydropower dam over time.


Asian mammals Elephas maximus Dispersal Microsatellites Relatedness 



We thank two anonymous reviewers for their insights and helpful comments. Funding for this project was provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Nam Theun 2 Power Company Ltd., and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (through Asian Elephant Conservation Fund grant number 98210-4-G800 to WCS); we are grateful to all these organizations. At the University of Missouri, Jessica Rabenold assisted with genetics laboratory work and data analyzes while the fieldwork would not have been possible without the willingness of the WCS Lao PDR Nakai Elephant Project’s numerous staff to work under what were sometimes trying circumstances; we are grateful to them all.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marissa A. Ahlering
    • 1
  • Simon Hedges
    • 2
  • Arlyne Johnson
    • 3
  • Martin Tyson
    • 3
  • Stephanie G. Schuttler
    • 1
  • Lori S. Eggert
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Division of Biological SciencesUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Asian Elephant Conservation ProgramWildlife Conservation SocietyBronxUSA
  3. 3.Lao PDR ProgramWildlife Conservation SocietyVientianeLao PDR

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