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Phylogeography of the eastern black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis michaeli) in Kenya

Shadrack M Muya

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J. Bio. Env. Sci.14(5), 110-123, May 2019


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Kenya lost over 98% of its black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis michaeli) between the 1960s and 1990s, leaving a mere 400 animals by 1993 isolated in small populations. The population is currently on a recovery path and currently stands at over 600 animals found in small isolated subpopulations, each of less than 100 animals. Differential evolutionary selection pressures are expected to apply in such isolated subpopulation, and may drive them into separate ecological evolutionary units. The aim of this study was to examine the spatial genetic structuring and diversity of mitochondrial DNA in the Kenyan black rhinoceros. This study was motivated by the fact that currently, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) black rhino conservation postulates that the Kenyan black rhinoceros exists in two main subpopulation referred to as the lowland and montane populations based on exposure to tsetse fly infestation; present in lowlands but absent in montane ecosystem. This study examined the Kenyan black rhinoceros mtDNA control region genetic diversity and its spatial structuring in Kenyan subpopulations. Different hypothesized subpopulation structuring scenarios were examined; including the lowland and montane conservation units. Genetic information was obtained from 408bp mitochondrial control region sequence from 170 individuals. Both model based and standard methods were used to examine the data. The sample comprised 16 maternal lineages, moderate haplotype diversity (0.73±0.137) and low nucleotide diversity (0.007±0.003). The geographic and altitudinal distribution of haplotypes was not phylogeographically structured. This level of genetic diversity and structuring in the Kenyan black rhinoceros is consistent with their demographic population history of a recent drastic population bottleneck and slow recovery. Findings of this study imply that substantial levels of genetic diversity still exist within the Kenyan black rhinoceros gene pool. The hypothesis of lowland and montane population units is not supported from a genetic perspective. Management strategies that involve translocation among populations at a rate of at least one breeding migration per generation are therefore advocated in order to control any further loss in genetic diversity due to drift and/or inbreeding.


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Phylogeography of the eastern black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis michaeli) in Kenya

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