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!
Algae: The final frontier
22.06.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science
Flipping the switch to stop tumor development
22.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
Germany counts high-precision manufacturing processes among its advantages as a location. It’s not just the aerospace and automotive industries that require almost waste-free, high-precision manufacturing to provide an efficient way of testing the shape and orientation tolerances of products. Since current inline measurement technology not yet provides the required accuracy, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is collaborating with four renowned industry partners in the INSPIRE project to develop inline sensors with a new accuracy class. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the project is scheduled to run until the end of 2019.
New Manufacturing Technologies for New Products
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
22.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences