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Keywords:

  • bottleneck;
  • captive;
  • conservation genetic;
  • microsatellite;
  • Panthera tigris altaica;
  • population genetic structure

Abstract

The Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is a critically endangered felid that suffered a severe demographic contraction in the 1940s. In this study, we sampled 95 individuals collected throughout their native range to investigate questions relative to population genetic structure and demographic history. Additionally, we sampled targeted individuals from the North American ex situ population to assess the genetic representation found in captivity. Population genetic and Bayesian structure analyses clearly identified two populations separated by a development corridor in Russia. Despite their well-documented 20th century decline, we failed to find evidence of a recent population bottleneck, although genetic signatures of a historical contraction were detected. This disparity in signal may be due to several reasons, including historical paucity in population genetic variation associated with postglacial colonization and potential gene flow from a now extirpated Chinese population. Despite conflicting signatures of a bottleneck, our estimates of effective population size (Ne = 27–35) and Ne/N ratio (0.07–0.054) were substantially lower than the only other values reported for a wild tiger population. Lastly, the extent and distribution of genetic variation in captive and wild populations were similar, yet gene variants persisted ex situ that were lost in situ. Overall, our results indicate the need to secure ecological connectivity between the two Russian populations to minimize loss of genetic diversity and overall susceptibility to stochastic events, and support a previous study suggesting that the captive population may be a reservoir of gene variants lost in situ.