Genetics Institutes in India

As rapid economic expansion continues to shape the Asian landscape on which many species depend, time is running out for conservationists aiming to save wildlife such as tigers and leopards. Scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have used genetic analysis to find that the natural forest corridors in India are essential to ensuring a future for these species. According to two studies recently published in two papers, these corridors are successfully connecting populations of tigers and leopards to ensure genetic diversity and gene flow. The results of the study that focused on tigers were published in Ecology and Evolution, and the results from the study that tracked leopards were published in Diversity and Distributions.

“This research provides crucial information about the need to maintain these vital veins to support tiger and leopard populations, ” said Sandeep Sharma, SCBI visiting scholar and lead author of the Ecology and Evolution paper. “These habitats and corridors in India are threatened by infrastructural developments and need to be conserved if we want to save these species for future generations.”

Habitat fragmentation can divide populations of species into isolated groups, which can lead to inbreeding and a genetic bottleneck that affects the long-term viability of the population. Scientists can determine the scope of such isolation by analyzing the extent to which groups of the same species from one range have become genetically distinct. The authors of the two papers used fecal samples to analyze the genetics of tiger and leopard populations in four reserves in central India: Satpura, Melghat, Pench, and Kanha. The Kanha and Pench reserves and the Satpura and Melghat reserves are connected via forest corridors that tigers, leopards, humans, and cattle share.

The researchers found that both tiger and leopard populations in the reserves had maintained a high level of genetic diversity. Neither tigers nor leopards were genetically distinct, with one exception among the leopards, which the scientists hope to explain with additional research. The corridors appear to allow individuals to move between reserves, facilitating genetic exchange.

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