Gene flow and immigration: genetic diversity and population structure of lions (Panthera leo) in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
The genetic diversity and population structure of a population of African lions in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, was studied using 17 microsatellite loci. Spatial genetic analysis using Bayesian methods suggested a weak genetic structure within the population and high levels of gene flow across the study area. We were able to identify a few individuals with aberrant or admixed ancestry, which we interpreted as either immigrants or as descendants thereof. This, together with relatively high genetic diversity, suggests that immigrants from beyond the study area have influenced the genetic structure within the park. We suggest that the levels of genetic diversity and the observed weak structure are indicative of the large and viable Okavango-Hwange population of which our study population is a part. Genetic patterns can also be attributed to still existing high levels of habitat connectivity between protected areas. Given expected increases in human populations and anthropogenic impacts, efforts to identify and maintain existing movement corridors between regional lion populations will be important in retaining the high genetic diversity status of this population. Our results show that understanding existing levels of genetic diversity and genetic connectivity has implications, not only for this lion population, but also for managing large wild populations of carnivores.
KeywordsPopulation genetic Lion (Panthera leo) Immigration Gene flow
Approval for the study was obtained from the Zimbabwe Parks and Management Wildlife Authority; the Wildlife drugs Subcommittee of the Drugs Control Council of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Veterinary Association, Wildlife Group. The samples were sent to Uppsala University under a permit to import research material from Jordbruksverket (Sweden) and an export permit from National Parks in Zimbabwe. Field research was supported by the Eppley Foundation, Darwin Initiative for Biodiversity, Panthera Foundation, Rufford Maurice-Laing Foundation, Frankenberg Foundation, Mitsubishi Fund for Europe and Africa, the SATIB Trust and Robertson Foundation. DWM thanks the Recanati-Kaplan Foundation for support. We thank Mats Höggren at the Kolmården Zoo for providing us with samples from this zoo population and Maria Quintela for her valuable comments on our manuscript.
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