The press release below is from the Zoological Society of London about a recent project with ALWG members Simon Dures and Glen Maude.
Read the full paper here: S. G. Dures, C. Carbone. V. Savolainen, G. Maude, D. Gotelli, Ecology rather than people restrict gene flow in Okavango-Kalahari lions. 2019. Animal Conservation.
Conservationists should be wary of assuming that genetic diversity loss in wildlife is always caused by humans, as new research published today by international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London) reveals that, in the case of a population of southern African lions (Panthera leo), it’s likely caused by ecological rather than human factors.
Published in Animal Conservation today (28 January 2020) the study saw researchers from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology and Imperial College London analyse the genetic diversity of 149 African lions in the KAZA (Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area) in northern Botswana between 2010 to 2013.
While human impacts are the leading cause of genetic diversity loss in many cases, scientists studying the lions found that diversity loss across the population was instead caused by the lions’ need to adapt to differing habitats.
They identified two genetically different populations of lions in the region, each adapted to living in a distinct habitat type; the so-called ‘wetland lions’ residing in the wetland habitat in the Okavango Delta and a ‘dryland lions’ group living in the semi-arid habitat of the Kalahari Desert.
If a separate population is created but cut off from its original source group due to ecological or human barriers, over time there will be less gene flow from lack of breeding between the populations. While a larger more connected population would generally have greater genetic diversity, small amounts of movement between them can maintain diversity while preserving adaptations that allow them to thrive in two different environments. Though not different enough to be classified as separate sub-species and still having slight genetic movement between the populations, it suggests a phenomenon called phenotypic plasticity – animals adapting in various ways to suit the environment they’re in.
Ensuring wildlife conservation managers understand how a population becomes genetically fragmented is important in order that decisions regarding protection are well-informed and consider animals’ true needs.
Dr Simon Dures, lead author and ZSL Researcher explained: “The findings have important applications for wildlife managers across Africa. It means translocations of animals, post human-wildlife conflict for example, need to be carefully considered with regards to their genetic predisposition to their new environment.
“The distinct ‘wetland lion’ populations living in the Okavango are incredibly well adapted to their environment. They’re strong swimmers and seem to thrive in water chasing buffalo down for a kill – which is the opposite for other lions in Africa, which would not typically hunt in water. Moving these animals into a semi-arid environment could be detrimental to their survival.
“Animals need to be able to move freely in order to maintain a level of genetic diversity that builds resilience to changes in their environment caused by climate change, and we think this ecologically-induced separation of the lions pre-dates western Europeans colonisation of southern Africa, so has likely been developing for a long time; way before people came with their fences and hunting.
“Although we didn’t find humans to be the driving force here – it doesn’t mean to say they aren’t having any effect. Impacts such as persecution or increased development could lead to exacerbating inbreeding and threatening the future of these specially adapted lions.”
To find out more about ZSL’s Institute of Zoology research, see www.zsl.org/science.
ZSL-led study shows genetic differences in African lions likely caused by ecological rather than human factors.
The next ALWG meeting will take place at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya with the option to attend the KWS Carnivore Workshop and/or an excursion to Laikipia.
WildCRU, part of the Zoology Department at Oxford University founded and developed by ALWG member David Macdonald, has produced:
The WildCRU Game: Global Carnivore Conservation.
This game allows youngsters and adults to experience the challenges of solving conservation problems, playing the roles of real team members undertaking real projects. It's a cooperative game – the team that works together best for conservation, wins!
Their goal, in addition to increasing the amount of fun and of carnivores in the world, is to get this game into schools and communities across the world and especially in the local communities where we work. Often these communities are poor, so we need people who can afford the game to buy it for people who can’t.
To achieve this WildCRU urgently needs your help with their Kickstarter project. You can buy a game for yourself and/or contribute to the cost of a game to be donated to a school or community anywhere from Zimbabwe to Sumatra.
Here’s how you can help:
August 10th is World Lion Day and ALWG members took to Twitter to spread the word! Here's what they had to say:
Even Leonardo DiCaprio chimed in promoting the launch of the Lion Recovery Fund, which aids many ALWG members.
Happy World Lion Day!