High variation and very low differentiation in wide ranging plains zebra (Equus quagga): insights from mtDNA and microsatellites


Eline D. Lorenzen, Fax: (+45) 3532 1300; E-mail: edlorenzen@bio.ku.dk


Patterns of genetic differentiation in the plains zebra (Equus quagga) were analysed using mitochondrial DNA control region variation and seven microsatellites. The six morphologically defined subspecies of plains zebra lacked the population genetic structure indicative of distinct evolutionary units. Both marker sets showed high levels of genetic variation and very low levels of differentiation. There was no geographical structuring of mitochondrial DNA haplotypes in the phylogenetic tree, and the plains zebra showed the lowest overall differentiation recorded in any African ungulate studied so far. Arid-adapted African ungulates have shown significant regional genetic structuring in support of the Pleistocene refuge theory. This was not the case in the zebra, and the data are discussed in relation to the impact of Pleistocene climate change on a nonbovid member of the savannah ungulate community. The only other species showing a similar absence of genetic structuring is the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer), but this taxon lacks the high levels of morphological variation present in the plains zebra.