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PLoS Genet. 2009 Aug;5(8):e1000585. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000585. Epub 2009 Aug 14.

Why the Indian subcontinent holds the key to global tiger recovery.

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National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore, India.

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  • PLoS Genet. 2009 Aug;5(8). doi: 10.1371/annotation/9f8748f6-300f-450e-bbed-63e66e1b6661.


With only approximately 3,000 wild individuals surviving restricted to just 7% of their historical range, tigers are now a globally threatened species. Therefore, conservation efforts must prioritize regions that harbor more tigers, as well try to capture most of the remaining genetic variation and habitat diversity. Only such prioritization based on demographic, genetic, and ecological considerations can ensure species recovery and retention of evolutionary flexibility in the face of ongoing global changes. Although scientific understanding of ecological and demographic aspects of extant wild tiger populations has improved recently, little is known about their genetic composition and variability. We sampled 73 individual tigers from 28 reserves spread across a diversity of habitats in the Indian subcontinent to obtain 1,263 bp of mitochondrial DNA and 10 microsatellite loci. Our analyses reveals that Indian tigers retain more than half of the extant genetic diversity in the species. Coalescent simulations attribute this high genetic diversity to a historically large population size of about 58,200 tigers for peninsular India south of the Gangetic plains. Furthermore, our analyses indicate a precipitous, possibly human-induced population crash approximately 200 years ago in India, which is in concordance with historical records. Our results suggest that only 1.7% (with an upper limit of 13% and a lower limit of 0.2%) of tiger numbers in historical times remain now. In the global conservation context our results suggest that, based on genetic, demographic, and ecological considerations, the Indian subcontinent holds the key to global survival and recovery of wild tigers.

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