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Genetic structuring and recent demographic history of red pandas (Ailurus fulgens) inferred from microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA

Authors

  • YIBO HU,

    1. Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1-5 Beichen West Road, Beijing 100101, China
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    • These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • YU GUO,

    1. Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1-5 Beichen West Road, Beijing 100101, China
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    • These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • DUNWU QI,

    1. Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1-5 Beichen West Road, Beijing 100101, China
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  • XIANGJIANG ZHAN,

    1. Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1-5 Beichen West Road, Beijing 100101, China
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  • HUA WU,

    1. Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1-5 Beichen West Road, Beijing 100101, China
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  • MICHAEL W. BRUFORD,

    1. Organisms and Environment Division, Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3AX, UK
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  • FUWEN WEI

    1. Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 1-5 Beichen West Road, Beijing 100101, China
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Fuwen Wei, Fax: +86 10 64807099, E-mail: weifw@ioz.ac.cn

Abstract

Clarification of the genetic structure and population history of a species can shed light on the impacts of landscapes, historical climate change and contemporary human activities and thus enables evidence-based conservation decisions for endangered organisms. The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is an endangered species distributing at the edge of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and is currently subject to habitat loss, fragmentation and population decline, thus representing a good model to test the influences of the above-mentioned factors on a plateau edge species. We combined nine microsatellite loci and 551 bp of mitochondrial control region (mtDNA CR) to explore the genetic structure and demographic history of this species. A total of 123 individuals were sampled from 23 locations across five populations. High levels of genetic variation were identified for both mtDNA and microsatellites. Phylogeographic analyses indicated little geographic structure, suggesting historically wide gene flow. However, microsatellite-based Bayesian clustering clearly identified three groups (Qionglai-Liangshan, Xiaoxiangling and Gaoligong-Tibet). A significant isolation-by-distance pattern was detected only after removing Xiaoxiangling. For mtDNA data, there was no statistical support for a historical population expansion or contraction for the whole sample or any population except Xiaoxiangling where a signal of contraction was detected. However, Bayesian simulations of population history using microsatellite data did pinpoint population declines for Qionglai, Xiaoxiangling and Gaoligong, demonstrating significant influences of human activity on demography. The unique history of the Xiaoxiangling population plays a critical role in shaping the genetic structure of this species, and large-scale habitat loss and fragmentation is hampering gene flow among populations. The implications of our findings for the biogeography of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, subspecies classification and conservation of red pandas are discussed.

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