Origin and phylogeography of African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) in Kruger and nearby parks in southern Africa
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African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) occur in fragmented and isolated populations across southern Africa. Transfrontier conservation efforts aim at preventing the negative effects of population fragmentation by maintaining and restoring linkages between protected areas. We sought to identify genetic linkages by comparing the elephants in Kruger National Park (South Africa) to populations in nearby countries (Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe). We used a 446 base pair mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region fragment (141 individuals) and 9 nuclear DNA (nDNA) microsatellite markers (69 individuals) to investigate phylogenetic relationships and gene flow among elephant populations. The mtDNA and nDNA phylogeographic patterns were incongruent, with mtDNA patterns likely reflecting the effects of ancient female migrations, with patterns persisting due to female philopatry, and nDNA patterns likely reflecting male-mediated dispersal. Kruger elephant heterozygosity and differentiation were examined, and were not consistent with genetic isolation, a depleted gene pool or a strong founder effect. Mitochondrial DNA geographic patterns suggested that the Kruger population was founded by elephants from areas both north and south of Kruger, or has been augmented through migration from more than one geographic source. We discuss our findings in light of the need for conservation initiatives that aim at maintaining or restoring connectivity among populations. Such initiatives may provide a sustainable, self-regulating management approach for elephants in southern Africa while maintaining genetic diversity within and gene flow between Kruger and nearby regions.
KeywordsAfrican elephant Loxodonta africana Phylogeography Population structure Gene flow Kruger National Park Fecal DNA
The projected was funded through grants to RJvA from the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Conservation Foundation (Zambia). Elephants Without Borders (Botswana) kindly facilitated sample collection. The Zambian Wildlife Authority, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Botswana), South African National Parks (SANParks) and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (South Africa) sanctioned our research activities. We acknowledge the support of a team of post-graduate students that assisted with the collection of study material, the support provided by the University of Pretoria’s Sequencing Facility, and Prof. Sydney Cameron for her help in the early stages of manuscript preperation. Travel and research support for AdeF was provided through the Francis M. and Harlie M. Clark Research Support Grant (2016), the Harley J. Van Cleave Research Award, and the University of Illinois Graduate College Dissertation Project Travel Grant. AdeF was also supported by the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, US Department of Agriculture, under project number ILLU 875–952. ALR was supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service African Elephant Conservation Fund.
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Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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