Biology Faculty Articles

Title

Genetic Evidence for Contrasting Wetland and Savannah Habitat Specializations in Different Populations of Lions (Panthera leo)

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

3-2016

Publication Title

Journal of Heredity

Keywords

Geomorphic evolution, Habitat specialization, Lion phylogeography, Mitochondrial DNA, Plio-Pleistocene climate change, Wetland archipelago

ISSN

0022-1503

Volume

107

Issue/No.

2

First Page

101

Last Page

103

Abstract

South-central Africa is characterized by an archipelago of wetlands, which has evolved in time and space since at least the Miocene, providing refugia for animal species during Pleistocene arid episodes. Their importance for biodiversity in the region is reflected in the evolution of a variety of specialist mammal and bird species, adapted to exploit these wetland habitats. Populations of lions (Panthera leo) across south-central and east Africa have contrasting signatures of mitochondrial DNA haplotypes and biparental nuclear DNA in wetland and savannah habitats, respectively, pointing to the evolution of distinct habitat preferences. This explains the absence of genetic admixture of populations from the Kalahari savannah of southwest Botswana and the Okavango wetland of northern Botswana, despite separation by only 500 km. We postulate that ancestral lions were wetland specialists and that the savannah lions evolved from populations that were isolated during arid Pleistocene episodes. Expansion of grasslands and the resultant increase in herbivore populations during mesic Pleistocene climatic episodes provided the stimulus for the rapid population expansion and diversification of the highly successful savannah lion specialists. Our model has important implications for lion conservation.

Comments

© The American Genetic Association. 2015. All rights reserved.

Additional Comments

Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology funding and project #s: UID/Multi/04423/2013, PTDC/AAG-GLO/6887/2014

ORCID ID

0000-0001-7353-8301

ResearcherID

N-1726-2015

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