Research looking at DNA from Iberian lynx fossils shows that they have had very little genetic variation over the last 50,000 years, suggesting that a small long-term population size is the 'norm' in the species and has not hampered their survival. The new study is published in the journal Molecular Ecology.
Conservationists previously thought that having low genetic diversity would doom a species to extinction, through inbreeding and reduced ability to adapt to changing environments.
Such a lack of genetic diversity, also seen in other cat species such as African cheetahs, lions of the Ngorongoro crater and the Florida panther, is usually thought to be the result of population bottlenecks. The effect of human activity or the dramatic ecosystem changes at the end of the last ice age caused by the Holocene warming around 10,000 years ago are common explanations for the phenomenon.
However, when researchers in Spain, Denmark and Sweden extracted DNA from the fossil bones and teeth of Iberian lynx, covering a period of at least the last 50,000 years, they found no genetic variation over that period. They were looking at mitochondrial DNA – a part of the genome that is usually very variable.
"At first this result was very surprising," said Ricardo Rodríguez from the Instituto de Salud Carlos III in Madrid, a lead author of the study. "It is not unusual to see low genetic diversity in living members of a species, but when people have looked at fossil DNA – especially from fossils older than 10,000 years – much more diversity is usually seen."
In collaboration with researchers at UCL (University College London), they were able to show that such patterns are best explained by relatively small long-term population sizes over that period.
"To see so little genetic diversity over such a long period of time indicates that populations sizes were moderate" said Professor Mark Thomas from the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at UCL, a co-author on the study. "But if small populations can exist for so long and with so little genetic diversity then this must say something about the survivability of similar endangered species today."
The Iberian lynx is currently considered the most threatened cat species in the world and is the most endangered carnivore in Europe. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified it as critically endangered. Despite being distributed throughout the Iberian peninsula in the past, lynx are now only found in two small isolated populations in southern Spain which together harbour no more than 279 individuals. This recent reduction in population size has been caused by habitat destruction, the decline of its main prey species – the European rabbit – and excessive hunting, even in the recent past.
"Most importantly, these results show that low genetic diversity in the Iberian lynx is not in itself an indication of a population in crisis" said Dr. Love Dalén from the Swedish Museum of Natural History, senior author on the study. "What's more, our results may help conservation biologists to assess how large a population needs to be to ensure its long-term survival, something which is a topic of an ongoing debate in many countries, especially for large carnivores."
"One clear message of our study is that a lack of genetic diversity in an endangered species should not hamper conservation efforts" added Dr. Cristina Valdiosera from Copenhagen University. "It's a myth that certain species are doomed by their genetics. If a species is doomed, it is only doomed by a lack of will to conserve it".
Notes for Editors
1. For more information or to interview Professor Mark Thomas, please contact David Weston in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 3108 3844, mobile: +44 07747 565 056, out of hours +44 (0)7733 307 596, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. '50,000 years of genetic uniformity in the critically endangered Iberian lynx' is published online in the journal Molecular Biology today. Journalists can obtain copies of the paper by contacting UCL Media Relations.
About UCL (University College London)
Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. UCL is among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. Alumni include Marie Stopes, Jonathan Dimbleby, Lord Woolf, Alexander Graham Bell, and members of the band Coldplay. UCL currently has over 13,000 undergraduate and 9,000 postgraduate students. Its annual income is over £700 million. www.ucl.ac.uk
David Weston | EurekAlert!
Modern genetic sequencing tools give clearer picture of how corals are related
17.08.2017 | University of Washington
The irresistible fragrance of dying vinegar flies
16.08.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.08.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy