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Genetic evaluation of the Iberian lynx ex situ conservation programme

Abstract

Ex situ programmes have become critical for improving the conservation of many threatened species, as they establish backup populations and provide individuals for reintroduction and reinforcement of wild populations. The Iberian lynx was considered the most threatened felid species in the world in the wake of a dramatic decline during the second half of the 20th century that reduced its numbers to around only 100 individuals. An ex situ conservation programme was established in 2003 with individuals from the two well-differentiated, remnant populations, with great success from a demographic point of view. Here, we evaluate the genetic status of the Iberian lynx captive population based on molecular data from 36 microsatellites, including patterns of relatedness and representativeness of the two remnant genetic backgrounds among founders, the evolution of diversity and inbreeding over the years, and genetic differentiation among breeding facilities. In general terms, the ex situ population harbours most of the genetic variability found in the two wild populations and has been able to maintain reasonably low levels of inbreeding and high diversity, thus validating the applied management measures and potentially representing a model for other species in need of conservation.

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Acknowledgements

Iberian lynx samples were contributed by the Iberian lynx Ex Situ Breeding Programme, the Centro de Análisis y Diagnóstico de la Fauna Silvestre and the LIFE projects LIFE06NAT/E/000209 and LIFE10NAT/ES/570, with authorisation of the Consejería de Medio Ambiente de la Junta de Andalucía. Logistical support was provided by the Laboratorio de Ecología Molecular, Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSIC (LEM-EBD). The study was funded by the contract between the CSIC and the Consejería de Medio Ambiente de la Junta de Andalucía “Caracterización genética de individuos y poblaciones andaluzas de lince ibérico” and by the Spanish Dirección General de Investigación Científica y Técnica through projects CGL2006–10853/BOS, CGL2010-21540/BOS, CGL2013-47755-P, and CGL2017-84641-P. DKR was supported by a PhD contract from the Programa Internacional de Becas “La Caixa-Severo Ochoa”. MCM was supported by a PhD JAE grant from the CSIC (Spanish National Research Council). CS was supported by a Ciência Sem Fronteiras grant from the CNPq (Brazilian National Research Council). Special thanks to David Aragonés from Laboratorio de Sistemas de Información Geográfica y Teledetección, Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSIC (LAST-EBD) for his help with the map, and to P. James Macaluso Jr. for his assistance in the English editing of the paper. We appreciate useful comments and suggestions from Maria Lucena-Perez, Elena Marmesat, Ana Píriz and three anonymous reviewers.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Correspondence to José A. Godoy.

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