Tigers and their close relatives (Panthera) are some of the world’s most endangered species. Here we report the de novo assembly of an Amur tiger whole-genome sequence as well as the genomic sequences of a white Bengal tiger, African lion, white African lion and snow leopard. Through comparative genetic analyses of these genomes, we find genetic signatures that may reflect molecular adaptations consistent with the big cats' hypercarnivorous diet and muscle strength. We report a snow leopard-specific genetic determinant in EGLN1 (Met39>Lys39), which is likely to be associated with adaptation to high altitude. We also detect a TYR260G>A mutation likely responsible for the white lion coat colour. Tiger and cat genomes show similar repeat composition and an appreciably conserved synteny. Genomic data from the five big cats provide an invaluable resource for resolving easily identifiable phenotypes evident in very close, but distinct, species.
- Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society
- Published about 2 years ago
Quantifying environmental crime and the effectiveness of policy interventions is difficult because perpetrators typically conceal evidence. To prevent illegal uses of natural resources, such as poaching endangered species, governments have advocated granting policy flexibility to local authorities by liberalizing culling or hunting of large carnivores. We present the first quantitative evaluation of the hypothesis that liberalizing culling will reduce poaching and improve population status of an endangered carnivore. We show that allowing wolf (Canis lupus) culling was substantially more likely to increase poaching than reduce it. Replicated, quasi-experimental changes in wolf policies in Wisconsin and Michigan, USA, revealed that a repeated policy signal to allow state culling triggered repeated slowdowns in wolf population growth, irrespective of the policy implementation measured as the number of wolves killed. The most likely explanation for these slowdowns was poaching and alternative explanations found no support. When the government kills a protected species, the perceived value of each individual of that species may decline; so liberalizing wolf culling may have sent a negative message about the value of wolves or acceptability of poaching. Our results suggest that granting management flexibility for endangered species to address illegal behaviour may instead promote such behaviour.
The leopard’s (Panthera pardus) broad geographic range, remarkable adaptability, and secretive nature have contributed to a misconception that this species might not be severely threatened across its range. We find that not only are several subspecies and regional populations critically endangered but also the overall range loss is greater than the average for terrestrial large carnivores. To assess the leopard’s status, we compile 6,000 records at 2,500 locations from over 1,300 sources on its historic (post 1750) and current distribution. We map the species across Africa and Asia, delineating areas where the species is confirmed present, is possibly present, is possibly extinct or is almost certainly extinct. The leopard now occupies 25-37% of its historic range, but this obscures important differences between subspecies. Of the nine recognized subspecies, three (P. p. pardus, fusca, and saxicolor) account for 97% of the leopard’s extant range while another three (P. p. orientalis, nimr, and japonensis) have each lost as much as 98% of their historic range. Isolation, small patch sizes, and few remaining patches further threaten the six subspecies that each have less than 100,000 km(2) of extant range. Approximately 17% of extant leopard range is protected, although some endangered subspecies have far less. We found that while leopard research was increasing, research effort was primarily on the subspecies with the most remaining range whereas subspecies that are most in need of urgent attention were neglected.
Human-carnivore conflicts challenge biodiversity conservation and local livelihoods, but the role of diseases of domestic animals in their predation by carnivores is poorly understood. We conducted a human-leopard (Panthera pardus) conflict study throughout all 34 villages around Golestan National Park, Iran in order to find the most important conflict determinants and to use them in predicting the probabilities of conflict and killing of cattle, sheep and goats, and dogs. We found that the more villagers were dissatisfied with veterinary services, the more likely they were to lose livestock and dogs to leopard predation. Dissatisfaction occurred when vaccination crews failed to visit villages at all or, in most cases, arrived too late to prevent diseases from spreading. We suggest that increased morbidity of livestock makes them particularly vulnerable to leopard attacks. Moreover, conflicts and dog killing were higher in villages located closer to the boundaries of the protected area than in distant villages. Therefore, we appeal for improved enforcement and coordination of veterinary services in our study area, and propose several priority research topics such as veterinarian studies, role of wild prey in diseases of domestic animals, and further analysis of potential conflict predictors.
The Sundarbans, the largest mangrove ecosystem in the world, is under threat from historical and future human exploitation and sea level rise. Limited scientific knowledge on the spatial ecology of the mangroves in this world heritage ecosystem has been a major impediment to conservation efforts. Here, for the first time, we report on habitat suitability analyses and spatial density maps for the four most prominent mangrove species - Heritiera fomes, Excoecaria agallocha, Ceriops decandra and Xylocarpus mekongensis. Globally endangered H. fomes abundances declined as salinity increased. Responses to nutrients, elevation, and stem density varied between species. H. fomes and X. mekongensis preferred upstream habitats. E. agallocha and C. decandra preferred down-stream and mid-stream habitats. Historical harvesting had negative influences on H. fomes, C. decandra and X. mekongensis abundances. The established protected area network does not support the most suitable habitats of these threatened species. We therefore recommend a reconfiguration of the network to include these suitable habitats and ensure their immediate protection. These novel habitat insights and spatial predictions can form the basis for future forest studies and spatial conservation planning, and have implications for more effective conservation of the Sundarbans mangroves and the many other species that rely on them.
The African lion has declined to <35,000 individuals occupying 25% of its historic range. The situation is most critical for the geographically isolated populations in West Africa, where the species is considered regionally endangered. Elevating their conservation significance, recent molecular studies establish the genetic distinctiveness of West and Central African lions from other extant African populations. Interventions to save West African lions are urgently required. However formulating effective conservation strategies has been hampered by a lack of data on the species' current distribution, status, and potential management deficiencies of protected areas (PAs) harboring lions. Our study synthesized available expert opinion and field data to close this knowledge gap, and formulate recommendations for the conservation of West African lions. We undertook lion surveys in 13 large (>500 km(2)) PAs and compiled evidence of lion presence/absence for a further eight PAs. All PAs were situated within Lion Conservation Units, geographical units designated as priority lion areas by wildlife experts at a regional lion conservation workshop in 2005. Lions were confirmed in only 4 PAs, and our results suggest that only 406 (273-605) lions remain in West Africa, representing <250 mature individuals. Confirmed lion range is estimated at 49,000 km(2), or 1.1% of historical range in West Africa. PAs retaining lions were larger than PAs without lions and had significantly higher management budgets. We encourage revision of lion taxonomy, to recognize the genetic distinctiveness of West African lions and highlight their potentially unique conservation value. Further, we call for listing of the lion as critically endangered in West Africa, under criterion C2a(ii) for populations with <250 mature individuals. Finally, considering the relative poverty of lion range states in West Africa, we call for urgent mobilization of investment from the international community to assist range states to increase management effectiveness of PAs retaining lions.
The global population of wild tigers remains dangerously low at fewer than 3500 individuals. Habitat loss, along with poaching, can undermine the international target recovery of doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022. Using a new satellite-based monitoring system, we analyzed 14 years of forest loss data within the 76 landscapes (ranging from 278 to 269,983 km(2)) that have been prioritized for conservation of wild tigers. Our analysis provides an update of the status of tiger habitat and describes new applications of technology to detect precisely where forest loss is occurring in order to curb future habitat loss. Across the 76 landscapes, forest loss was far less than anticipated (79,597 ± 22,629 km(2), 7.7% of remaining habitat) over the 14-year study period (2001-2014). Habitat loss was unevenly distributed within a subset of 29 landscapes deemed most critical for doubling wild tiger populations: 19 showed little change (1.5%), whereas 10 accounted for more than 98% (57,392 ± 16,316 km(2)) of habitat loss. Habitat loss in source population sites within 76 landscapes ranged from no loss to 435 ± 124 km(2) ([Formula: see text], SD = 89, total = 1676 ± 476 km(2)). Doubling the tiger population by 2022 requires moving beyond tracking annual changes in habitat. We highlight near-real-time forest monitoring technologies that provide alerts of forest loss at relevant spatial and temporal scales to prevent further erosion.
The continuing development of improved capture-recapture (CR) modeling techniques used to study apex predators has also limited robust temporal and cross-site analyses due to different methods employed. We develop an approach to standardize older non-spatial CR and newer spatial CR density estimates and examine trends for critically endangered Sumatran tigers (Panthera tigris sumatrae) using a meta-regression of 17 existing densities and new estimates from our own fieldwork. We find that tiger densities were 47% higher in primary versus degraded forests and, unexpectedly, increased 4.9% per yr from 1996 to 2014, likely indicating a recovery from earlier poaching. However, while tiger numbers may have temporarily risen, the total potential island-wide population declined by 16.6% from 2000 to 2012 due to forest loss and degradation and subpopulations are significantly more fragmented. Thus, despite increasing densities in smaller parks, we conclude that there are only two robust populations left with >30 breeding females, indicating Sumatran tigers still face a high risk of extinction unless deforestation can be controlled.
The trophy hunting of lions Panthera leo is contentious due to uncertainty concerning conservation impacts and because of highly polarised opinions about the practice. African lions are hunted across at least ∼558,000 km(2), which comprises 27-32% of the lion range in countries where trophy hunting of the species is permitted. Consequently, trophy hunting has potential to impart significant positive or negative impacts on lions. Several studies have demonstrated that excessive trophy harvests have driven lion population declines. There have been several attempts by protectionist non-governmental organisations to reduce or preclude trophy hunting via restrictions on the import and export of lion trophies. We document the management of lion hunting in Africa and highlight challenges which need addressing to achieve sustainability. Problems include: unscientific bases for quota setting; excessive quotas and off-takes in some countries; fixed quotas which encourage over-harvest; and lack of restrictions on the age of lions that can be hunted. Key interventions needed to make lion hunting more sustainable, include implementation of: enforced age restrictions; improved trophy monitoring; adaptive management of quotas and a minimum length of lion hunts of at least 21 days. Some range states have made important steps towards implementing such improved management and off-takes have fallen steeply in recent years. For example age restrictions have been introduced in Tanzania and in Niassa in Mozambique, and are being considered for Benin and Zimbabwe, several states have reduced quotas, and Zimbabwe is implementing trophy monitoring. However, further reforms are needed to ensure sustainability and reduce conservation problems associated with the practice while allowing retention of associated financial incentives for conservation.
In the southern Bago Yoma mountain range in Myanmar, Asian elephants are being killed at a disturbing rate. This emerging crisis was identified initially through a telemetry study when 7 of 19 of collared elephants were poached within a year of being fitted with a satellite-GPS collar. Subsequent follow up of ground teams confirmed the human caused death or disappearance of at least 19 elephants, including the seven collared individuals, within a 35 km2 area in less than two years. The carcasses of 40 additional elephants were found in areas located across south-central Myanmar once systematic surveys began by our team and collaborators. In addition to the extreme rate of loss, this study documents the targeting of elephants for their skin instead of the more common ivory, an increasing trend in Myanmar. Intensive research programs focused on other conservation problems identified this issue and are now encouraging local authorities to prioritize anti-poaching efforts and improve conservation policies within the country. Myanmar represents one of the last remaining countries in Asia with substantial wildlands suitable for elephants. Increasing rates of human-elephant conflict and poaching events in this country pose a dire threat to the global population.