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Keywords:

  • demography;
  • microsatellites;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • nucleotide diversity;
  • phylogeography;
  • population structure

Abstract

African wild dogs are large, highly mobile carnivores that are known to disperse over considerable distances and are rare throughout much of their geographical range. Consequently, genetic variation within and differentiation between geographically separated populations is predicted to be minimal. We determined the genetic diversity of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequences and microsatellite loci in seven populations of African wild dogs. Analysis of mtDNA nucleotide diversity suggests that, historically, wild dog populations have been small relative to other large carnivores. However, population declines due to recent habitat loss have not caused a dramatic reduction in genetic diversity. We found one historical and eight recent mtDNA genotypes in 280 individuals that defined two highly divergent clades. In contrast to a previous, more limited, mtDNA analysis, sequences from these clades are not geographically restricted to eastern or southern African populations. Rather, we found a large admixture zone spanning populations from Botswana, Zimbabwe and south-eastern Tanzania. Mitochondrial and microsatellite differentiation between populations was significant and unique mtDNA genotypes and alleles characterized the populations. However, gene flow estimates (Nm) based on microsatellite data were generally greater than one migrant per generation. In contrast, gene flow estimates based on the mtDNA control region were lower than expected given differences in the mode of inheritance of mitochondrial and nuclear markers which suggests a male bias in long-distance dispersal.