Gene flow and immigration: genetic diversity and population structure of lions (Panthera leo) in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
Morandin C., Höglund J., Loveridge AJ., Elliot N., Macdonald DW., Madzikanda H., Segelbacher G.
The genetic diversity and population structure of a population of African lions in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, was studied using 17 microsatellite loci. Spatial genetic analysis using Bayesian methods suggested a weak genetic structure within the population and high levels of gene flow across the study area. We were able to identify a few individuals with aberrant or admixed ancestry, which we interpreted as either immigrants or as descendants thereof. This, together with relatively high genetic diversity, suggests that immigrants from beyond the study area have influenced the genetic structure within the park. We suggest that the levels of genetic diversity and the observed weak structure are indicative of the large and viable Okavango-Hwange population of which our study population is a part. Genetic patterns can also be attributed to still existing high levels of habitat connectivity between protected areas. Given expected increases in human populations and anthropogenic impacts, efforts to identify and maintain existing movement corridors between regional lion populations will be important in retaining the high genetic diversity status of this population. Our results show that understanding existing levels of genetic diversity and genetic connectivity has implications, not only for this lion population, but also for managing large wild populations of carnivores. © 2014 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.