Conservation Genetics

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 89–102 | Cite as

Phylogeography and subspecies assessment of vicuñas in Chile and Bolivia utilizing mtDNA and microsatellite markers: implications for vicuña conservation and management

  • Ronald J. SarnoEmail author
  • Lilian Villalba
  • Cristian Bonacic
  • Benito Gonzalez
  • Beatriz Zapata
  • David W. Mac Donald
  • Stephen J. O'Brien
  • Warren E. Johnson


The rearing and maintenance of wildvicuñas in semi-captivity for economicutilization is practiced mainly in Peru, butArgentina, Bolivia, and Chile are quicklydeveloping their own programs of economic use. Large scale rearing practices will likelyisolate populations and may foster selectivebreeding. In addition to these concerns, thereare also uncertainties about the distributionand validity of the currently recognizedsubspecies. To better understand the potentialimpact that economic utilization will have onthe vicuña, we describe the moleculargenetic variation among four populations andboth described subspecies. An analysis of 794~bp of mitochondrial DNA sequences (16s,cytochrome b genes, and mtDNA control region)revealed appreciable genetic diversity, low tomoderate levels of genetic differentiation, andrestricted gene flow with isolation by distanceamong populations. Analysis of microsatellitedata also indicated genetic differentiationamong populations. Past climatic and geologicevents, coupled with human history, have likelysubjected the vicuña to various episodes ofpopulation isolation and admixture. Therefore,we suggest that managers aim to ensure geneflow among adjoining populations, as observedat mtDNA and microsatellite loci, as well asmaintaining apparent restricted gene flow withisolation by distance among populationsseparated by great distances. Intensiverearing procedures like those being practicedin Peru will ultimately disrupt movements andmigration among wild populations. Furthermore,animals that are not exposed to predation byremaining inside fences, may overtime, loseportions of their behavioral repertoire thatenable them to recognize potentially dangeroussounds associated with the presence ofpredators. Therefore, we do not recommend thatanimals be placed behind fences as this couldlead to a loss of genetic and behavioraldiversity as well as halting natural ecologicalprocesses. If, however, vicuñas are placedbehind fences for commercial purposes (withlittle or no regard for the retention ofgenetic, and/or behavioral diversity as well asnatural population processes) then we suggestclose genetic monitoring of animals that are(will be) maintained in captivity.

camelid microsatellites mtDNA sequences ungulate Vicugna vicugna 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald J. Sarno
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lilian Villalba
    • 2
    • 3
  • Cristian Bonacic
    • 4
  • Benito Gonzalez
    • 4
  • Beatriz Zapata
    • 4
  • David W. Mac Donald
    • 3
  • Stephen J. O'Brien
    • 1
  • Warren E. Johnson
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Genomic DiversityNational Cancer InstituteFrederick
  2. 2.Colección Boliviana de FaunaLaPazBolivia
  3. 3.Wildlife Research, Conservation UnitOxford UniversityOxfordUnited Kingdom
  4. 4.Facultad de Agronomía e Ingeniería ForestalPontificia Universidad Católica de ChileCasillaChile

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