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: email@example.com.
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!
Cryo-electron microscopy achieves unprecedented resolution using new computational methods
24.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
How cheetahs stay fit and healthy
24.03.2017 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy