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Genetic vari­a­tion two Ben­gal tiger pop­u­la­tions at risk in Himalayan foothills

pub­lished 13 May 2017 | mod­i­fied 13 May 2017

Bengal tiger sharpening clawsThe flow of genes between Ben­gal tigers in two reserves of the Terai Arc Land­scape in west­ern Himalayan foothills is too low, accord­ing to a study pub­lished on 26 April in the open-​access jour­nal PLOS ONE by Suren­dra Prakash Goyal from Wildlife Insti­tute of India, India, and colleagues.

Tigers are endan­gered partly due to habi­tat loss, which can frag­ment pop­u­la­tions and reduce gene flow among them. Gene flow between pop­u­la­tions can main­tain genetic vari­a­tion and spread ben­e­fi­cial gene alle­les, so under­stand­ing the gene flow of iso­lated tiger pop­u­la­tions i.e. in west­ern Himalayan foothills is cru­cial in devel­op­ing man­age­ment strate­gies for con­serv­ing these big cats. Goyal and col­leagues analysed DNA from 71 sam­ples of tis­sue, blood or scat from Ben­gal tigers to assess their gene flow in an 1,800 km2 region of the west­ern Himalayan foothills. The region has two main sub­pop­u­la­tions of tigers, one in the Rajaji National Park & Tiger Reserve and the other in the Cor­bett National Park & Tiger Reserve.

Tiger habitats himalayan foothillsMap show­ing tiger sam­ples loca­tions col­lected from WTAL, human habi­ta­tion depicted by the amount of night light pol­lu­tion and iden­ti­fied cor­ri­dors C1&C2.
Singh SK, Aspi J, Kvist L, Sharma R, Pandey P, Mishra S, et al. (2017) Fine-​scale pop­u­la­tion genetic struc­ture of the Ben­gal tiger (Pan­thera tigris tigris) in a human-​dominated west­ern Terai Arc Land­scape, India. PLoS ONE 12(4): e0174371. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0174371

The researchers found that tiger gene flow between two reserves was asym­met­ri­cal and was lower than in pre­vi­ous reports in other tiger pop­u­la­tions. Func­tion­al­ity of the cor­ri­dor (C1 and C2 on the map) could remain viable if habi­tat qual­ity does not dete­ri­o­rate any more. How­ever, given chang­ing land use in the con­nect­ing cor­ri­dor, the gene flow was inadequate.

The authors sug­gest that mea­sures to main­tain con­nec­tiv­ity between the tiger reserves could include relo­cat­ing vil­lages and indus­tries, reduc­ing human depen­dency, ban­ning sand and boul­der min­ing in the corridors.

(Source: PLOS news release via EurekAlert!, 26.04.2017)

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