- A discovery of two genetically distinct African lion populations adapted to habitat, not humans.
- Sometimes the patterns we see in populations of conservation concern may not be caused by people. Instead, they may in fact be a result of evolutionary adaptation helping one group of animals improve their chances of survival in a particular habitat type. It is crucial that we are aware of such adaptations.
- If we dilute this unique adaptation through haphazardly moving animals to mitigate what we erroneously think is human-caused fragmentation, we may inadvertently reduce a species ability to survive in a changing climate.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
The lion. The king of the jungle. It ’ s surely one of Africa ’ sulfur ( if not the world ’ mho ) most iconic animals. It is on the ‘ must see ’ list of equitable about every person that heads to East or southerly Africa for campaign, and stars in an align of nature documentaries, films, and books. Nestlé even named a cocoa barricade after the animal .
Despite this, and possibly because of their ubiquity in our media, most people would be surprised if you told them that lions are in truth not doing very well. Their numbers have declined from an estimate of over 1,000,000 in the nineteenth hundred to about 30,000 individuals nowadays .
The biggest campaign of the decline in leo numbers is plainly a loss of space for them to live. As humans make increasing technical advancements to accommodate the needs of our exploding population, we encroach on the remaining areas of wilderness, dividing and splitting the parcels of habitat into smaller and less-connected refugia. The remaining fragments contain limited resources and are unable to support as many individuals. In addition, the remaining little and sequester populations risk inbreeding because closely relate individuals are no longer able to disperse and end up mating together, exerting so far more imperativeness on vulnerable populations .
Given the incontrovertible wrong that humans are having on the environment, it is identical easy to assume that all population fragmentation is caused by humans. As conservation practitioners, this is something that we aim to address by reconnecting populations and tied, in awful situations, by relocating individuals from one population to another to reduce levels of inbreeding. But what if we are wrong ? What if, in our arrogance, we assume a population has been fragmented by people when in fact it is a strictly natural phenomenon ? If such a mistake is made, natural adaptations to singular habitats could easily become unbalance and reduce a populations ’ ability to thrive.
Botswana ’ s Okavango Delta is a in truth charming space. An haven of green in the sands of the Kalahari Desert. It besides has a ample lion population and forms contribution of a much wider conservation area known as the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, or KAZA, one of the final lion strongholds in Africa. There is an extensive net of fences surrounding much of the Okavango Delta, dividing it from the huge plains of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. These fences are designed to stop the movement of ungulates, particularly old world buffalo, into the cattle ranching areas, facilitating disease-free status for beef export. But they are besides accused of preventing the movement of many other species, including lions. Further, when predators such as lions do encroach on cattle farming areas, they are probably not to survive the inevitable conflict .
To assess precisely where lions can and can not disperse across Botswana ’ sulfur landscape, we turned to genetics to investigate whether fragmentation existed across the population. If found to be give, we aimed to determine what factors might be causing it. The traditional method would have been the use of satellite collars ; however, they are expensive and there is a commodity casual an person we collar may not disperse. By using genetics, we can take a little tissue sample from lots of different lions. From these samples we extract DNA, look at relatedness between individuals, and can then calculate how lions are dispersing across the landscape. We can besides examine what elements of the landscape, such as habitat type, fences, cattle ranches, and waterways, are preventing or facilitating any dispersion.
The ferment has found that the lions are indeed disconnected. We discovered two genetically discrete populations of lions in the region : the alleged ‘ wetland lions ’ residing in the wetland habitat in the Okavango Delta, and a ‘ dryland lions ’ group living in the semi-arid habitat of the Kalahari Desert. Between these two populations, only very limited dispersion exists. however, when we looked at factors driving this reduced dispersion, we found that it is not fences, cattle ranching, or any other human chemical element of the landscape preventing apparent motion — it is, in fact, the remainder in habitat type. Simply, lions that come from a wetland landscape do not like traveling to a defect and vice versa, and this remainder would have evolved hanker before the influence of humans became a impregnable as it is today .
possibly this is not surprising ; if a leo has learned to hunt in the ample, prey-rich Okavango, it may not know how to survive in the dry Kalahari. conversely, learning to hunt in the assailable Kalahari grasslands does not equip a lion with the cognition to hunt american bison through water. Most importantly, this shape teaches us that sometimes the patterns we see in populations of conservation concern may not be caused by people. alternatively, they may in fact be a result of evolutionary adaptation helping one group of animals improve their chances of survival in a particular habitat type. It is crucial that we are mindful of such adaptations. If we dilute this alone adaptation through haphazard moving animals to mitigate what we mistakenly think is human-caused atomization, we may unwittingly reduce a species ability to survive in a changing climate. It is such diverseness which allows a species to withstand pressures, be they from a changing climate, a novel disease, or shrinking populations.
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While our finding suggests that Okavango/Kalahari lion fragmentation is not driven by human actions, it does not mean that people are not having an impingement — it just means the differences between the wetland lions and the dryland lions is presently bigger that any differences caused by homo changes to the landscape. If we are not careful, this could change. such natural differences need to be preserved. It is not rare for lions to be moved, both within Botswana and indeed around the African celibate, and this risks unbalancing the elusive but authoritative levels of adaptation that have evolved to better survive in alone environments. such diversity and singularity must be preserved if species such as lions are to thrive long into the future. It is essential we understand the nature of the populations we are working with before we make conservation decisions .
Dr. Simon Dures is presently an freelancer adviser working on projects to improving local capacity to investigate wildlife crime, such as poaching, across Africa. This inquiry pertains to his PhD studies while at international conservation charity ZSL ’ sulfur ( zoological club of London ) Institute of Zoology and Imperial College London .