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J Hered. 2019 May 17. pii: esz034. doi: 10.1093/jhered/esz034. [Epub ahead of print]

Sorting out the Genetic Background of the Last Surviving South China Tigers.

Author information

1
The Sichuan Key Laboratory of Conservation Biology on Endangered Wildlife, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Chengdu, Sichuan, China.
2
The State Key Laboratory of Protein and Plant Gene Research,Peking-Tsinghua Center for Life Sciences, Schoolof Life Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, China.
3
College of Life Science, Sichuan University, Chengdu, Sichuan, China.
4
Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens, Beijing, China.
5
Shanghai Zoo, Shanghai, China.
6
Chongqing Zoo, Chongqing, China.
7
Fujian Meihuashan Institute of South China Tiger Breeding, Shanghang County, Fujian, China.
8
Suzhou Zoo, Suzhou, Jiangshu, China.
9
Nanchang Zoo, Nanchang, Jiangxi, China.
10
Luoyang Wangcheng Garden, Luoyang, Henan, China.
11
Fuzhou Zoo, Fuzhou, Fujian, China.
12
Chengdu Zoo, Chengdu, Sichuan, China.
13
Changsha Zoo, Changsha, Hunan, China.
14
Guangzhou Zoo, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China.
15
Safari Park Shenzhen, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China.
16
Safari Park Guiyang, Guiyang, Guizhou, China.

Abstract

The South China tiger (Panthera tigris amoyensis) is endemic to China and also the most critically endangered subspecies of living tigers. It is considered extinct in the wild and only about 150 individuals survive in captivity to date, whose genetic heritage, however, is ambiguous and controversial. Here, we conducted an explicit genetic assessment of 92 studbook-registered South China tigers from 14 captive facilities using a subspecies-diagnostic system in the context of comparison with other voucher specimens to evaluate the genetic ancestry and level of distinctiveness of the last surviving P. t. amoyensis. Three mtDNA haplotypes were identified from South China tigers sampled in this study, including a unique P. t. amoyensis AMO1 haplotype not found in other subspecies, a COR1 haplotype that is widespread in Indochinese tigers (P. t. corbetti), and an ALT haplotype that is characteristic of Amur tigers (P. t. altaica). Bayesian STRUCTURE analysis and parentage verification confirmed the Verified Subspecies Ancestry (VSA) as the South China tiger in 74 individuals. Genetic introgression from other tigers was detected in 18 tigers, and subsequent exclusion of these and their offspring from the breeding program is recommended. Both STRUCTURE clustering and microsatellite-based phylogenetic analyses demonstrated a close genetic association of the VSA South China tigers to Indochinese tigers, an issue that could only be elucidated by analysis of historical South China tiger specimens with wild origin. Our results also indicated a moderate level of genetic diversity in the captive South China tiger population, suggesting a potential for genetic restoration.

KEYWORDS:

South China tiger; admixture; inbreeding; microsatellite; mtDNA

PMID:
31102441
DOI:
10.1093/jhered/esz034

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