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J Hered. 2008 Sep-Oct;99(5):443-52. doi: 10.1093/jhered/esn028. Epub 2008 May 13.

Population genetic structure of savannah elephants in Kenya: conservation and management implications.

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Molecular Biology Laboratory, Makerere University Institute of Environment and Natural Resources, PO Box 7298, Kampala, Uganda.


We investigated population genetic structure and regional differentiation among African savannah elephants in Kenya using mitochondrial and microsatellite markers. We observed mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) nucleotide diversity of 1.68% and microsatellite variation in terms of average number of alleles, expected and observed heterozygosities in the total study population of 10.20, 0.75, and 0.69, respectively. Hierarchical analysis of molecular variance of mtDNA variation revealed significant differentiation among the 3 geographical regions studied (F(CT) = 0.264; P < 0.05) and a relatively lower differentiation among populations within regions (F(SC) = 0.218; P < 0.0001). Microsatellite variation significantly differentiated among populations within regions (F(SC) = 0.019; P < 0.0001) but not at the regional levels (F(CT) = 0.000; P > 0.500). We attribute the high differentiation at the mitochondrial genome to the matrilineal social structure of elephant populations, female natal philopatry, and probably ancient vicariance. Lack of significant regional differentiation at the nuclear loci vis-a-vis strong differences at mtDNA loci between regions is likely the effect of subsequent homogenization through male-mediated gene flow. Our results depicting 3 broad regional mtDNA groups and the observed population genetic differentiation as well as connectivity patterns should be incorporated in the planning of future management activities such as translocations.

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