Conservation genetics of the imperilled Barbary red deer in Tunisia


F. E. Zachos, Zoological Institute, Christian-Albrechts-University at Kiel, Olshausenstrasse 40, 24118 Kiel, Germany.


Barbary red deer Cervus elaphus barbarus from three areas in Tunisia (n=30) were analysed for genetic variability at 13 microsatellite loci and 680 bp of the mitochondrial control region. Barbary red deer, the only African deer taxon, are presently confined to a small area along the Tunisian–Algerian border and underwent a severe bottleneck in the middle of the 20th century with, on the Tunisian side, possibly only seven animals left. The genetic data showed signs of inbreeding and reflected the bottleneck event. Variability was on the lower end of the range previously reported for red deer (number of haplotypes=two, observed and expected heterozygosity 0.46 and 0.78, respectively) but not as low as might have been feared in view of the population's demographic history. The three sampling sites – among them the reserve at El Feidja from which, apart from Algerian immigrants, all extant Tunisian red deer originate – did not show any sign of genetic differentiation. The Tunisian red deer can thus probably be considered a single, genetically homogeneous population. Implications for management and conservation of the genetic findings are discussed.