Phylogeography and conservation genetics of Eld's deer (Cervus eldi)


Christopher N. Balakrishnan. Fax: 617 353 6340; E-mail:


Eld's deer (Cervus eldi) is a highly endangered cervid, distributed historically throughout much of South Asia and Indochina. We analysed variation in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region for representatives of all three Eld's deer subspecies to gain a better understanding of the genetic population structure and evolutionary history of this species. A phylogeny of mtDNA haplotypes indicates that the critically endangered and ecologically divergent C. eldi eldi is related more closely to C. e. thamin than to C. e. siamensis, a result that is consistent with biogeographic considerations. The results also suggest a strong degree of phylogeographic structure both between subspecies and among populations within subspecies, suggesting that dispersal of individuals between populations has been very limited historically. Haplotype diversity was relatively high for two of the three subspecies (thamin and siamensis), indicating that recent population declines have not yet substantially eroded genetic diversity. In contrast, we found no haplotype variation within C. eldi eldi or the Hainan Island population of C. eldi siamensis, two populations which are known to have suffered severe population bottlenecks. We also compared levels of haplotype and nucleotide diversity in an unmanaged captive population, a managed captive population and a relatively healthy wild population. Diversity indices were higher in the latter two, suggesting the efficacy of well-designed breeding programmes for maintaining genetic diversity in captivity. Based on significant genetic differentiation among Eld's deer subspecies, we recommend the continued management of this species in three distinct evolutionarily significant units (ESUs). Where possible, it may be advisable to translocate individuals between isolated populations within a subspecies to maintain levels of genetic variation in remaining Eld's deer populations.