Molecular genetic insights on cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) ecology and conservation in Namibia
- November 2, 2007
- by Marker L. L., A.J. Pearks Wilkerson, R.J. Sarno, J. Martenson, C. Breitenmoser-Wursten, S.J. O'Brien, W.E. Johnson
The extent and geographic patterns of molecular genetic diversity of the largest remaining free-ranging cheetah population were described in a survey of 313 individuals from throughout Namibia. Levels of relatedness, including paternity/maternity (parentage), were assessed across all individuals using 19 polymorphic microsatellite loci, and unrelated cheetahs (n = 89) from 7 regions were genotyped at 38 loci to document broad geographical patterns. There was limited differentiation among regions, evidence that this is a generally panmictic population. Measures of genetic variation were similar among all regions and were comparable with Eastern African cheetah populations. Parentage analyses confirmed several observations based on field studies, including 21 of 23 previously hypothesized family groups, 40 probable parent/offspring pairs, and 8 sibling groups. These results also verified the successful integration and reproduction of several cheetahs following natural dispersal or translocation. Animals within social groups (family groups, male coalitions, or sibling groups) were generally related. Within the main study area, radio-collared female cheetahs were more closely interrelated than similarly compared males, a pattern consistent with greater male dispersal. The long-term maintenance of current patterns of genetic variation in Namibia depends on retaining habitat characteristics that promote natural dispersal and gene flow of cheetahs.