Combining genetic and ecological data to assess the conservation status of the endangered Ethiopian walia ibex

Authors


Correspondence
Berihun Gebremedhin, Institute of Biodiversity Conservation, PO Box 30726, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Email: berihungm@yahoo.com; berihungm@ibc-et.org

Abstract

Knowledge about the phylogenetic history, genetic variation and ecological requirements of a species is important for its conservation and management. Unfortunately, for many species this information is lacking. Here we use multiple approaches (phylogenetics, population genetics and ecological modelling) to evaluate the evolutionary history and conservation status of Capra walie, an endangered flagship species of wild goat endemic to Ethiopia. The analysis of mitochondrial cytochrome b and Y-chromosome DNA sequences suggests that C. walie forms a monophyletic clade with Capra nubiana, but potentially has been isolated for up to 0.8 million years from this closely related species. Microsatellite DNA analyses show that C. walie has very low genetic variation (mean heterozygosity=0.35) compared with other endangered mammals. This reduced variation likely derives from a prolonged demographic decline and small effective population size. Ecological niche modelling using the bioclimatic features of habitats occupied by C. walie, suggests ecological differences between C. walie and C. nubiana, and identifies the areas most suitable for future reintroductions of C. walie. The genetic and bioclimatic data suggest that C. walie is distinct and requires immediate conservation actions including genetic monitoring and reintroductions to establish independent populations. This study illustrates how combining noninvasive sampling along with genetic and ecological (bioclimatic) approaches can help assess conservation status of poorly known species.

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