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Can genetic rescue help save Arabia's last big cat?

Al Hikmani, Hadi, van Oosterhout, Cock, Birley, Thomas, Labisko, Jim, Jackson, Hazel A., Spalton, Andrew, Tollington, Simon, Groombridge, Jim J. (2024) Can genetic rescue help save Arabia's last big cat? Evolutionary Applications, 17 (5). Article Number e13701. ISSN 1752-4563. E-ISSN 1752-4571. (doi:10.1111/eva.13701) (KAR id:106062)


Genetic diversity underpins evolutionary potential that is essential for the long‐term viability of wildlife populations. Captive populations harbor genetic diversity potentially lost in the wild, which could be valuable for release programs and genetic rescue. The Critically Endangered Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) has disappeared from most of its former range across the Arabian Peninsula, with fewer than 120 individuals left in the wild, and an additional 64 leopards in captivity. We (i) examine genetic diversity in the wild and captive populations to identify global patterns of genetic diversity and structure; (ii) estimate the size of the remaining leopard population across the Dhofar mountains of Oman using spatially explicit capture–recapture models on DNA and camera trap data, and (iii) explore the impact of genetic rescue using three complementary computer modeling approaches. We estimated a population size of 51 (95% CI 32–79) in the Dhofar mountains and found that 8 out of 25 microsatellite alleles present in eight loci in captive leopards were undetected in the wild. This includes two alleles present only in captive founders known to have been wild‐sourced from Yemen, which suggests that this captive population represents an important source for genetic rescue. We then assessed the benefits of reintroducing novel genetic diversity into the wild population as well as the risks of elevating the genetic load through the release of captive‐bred individuals. Simulations indicate that genetic rescue can improve the long‐term viability of the wild population by reducing its genetic load and realized load. The model also suggests that the genetic load has been partly purged in the captive population, potentially making it a valuable source population for genetic rescue. However, the greater loss of its genetic diversity could exacerbate genomic erosion of the wild population during a rescue program, and these risks and benefits should be carefully evaluated. An important next step in the recovery of the Arabian leopard is to empirically validate these conclusions, implement and monitor a genomics‐informed management plan, and optimize a strategy for genetic rescue as a tool to recover Arabia's last big cat.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/eva.13701
Uncontrolled keywords: genetic diversity; endangered species; Panthera pardus nimr; noninvasive sampling; camera traps; Arabian leopard; genetic rescue; small populations
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation > DICE (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology)
Funders: University of Kent (
SWORD Depositor: JISC Publications Router
Depositing User: JISC Publications Router
Date Deposited: 24 May 2024 08:19 UTC
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2024 08:10 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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