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Dryad

The potential and shortcomings of mitochondrial DNA analysis for cheetah conservation management

Cite this dataset

Meißner, René et al. (2022). The potential and shortcomings of mitochondrial DNA analysis for cheetah conservation management [Dataset]. Dryad. https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.b8gtht7h1

Abstract

There are only about 7,100 adolescent and adult cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) remaining in the wild. With the majority occurring outside protected areas, their numbers are rapidly declining. Evidence-based conservation measures are essential for the survival of this species. Genetic data is routinely used to inform conservation strategies, e.g., by establishing conservation units (CU). A commonly used marker in conservation genetics is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Here, we investigated the cheetah’s phylogeography using a large-scale mtDNA data set to refine subspecies distributions and better assign individuals to CUs. Our dataset mostly consisted of historic samples to cover the cheetah’s whole range as the species has been extinct in most of its former distribution. While our genetic data largely agree with geography-based subspecies assignments, several geographic regions show conflicting mtDNA signals. Our analyses support previous findings that evolutionary forces such as incomplete lineage sorting or mitochondrial capture likely confound the mitochondrial phylogeography of this species, especially in East and, to some extent, in Northeast Africa. We caution that subspecies assignments solely based on mtDNA should be treated carefully and argue for an additional standardized nuclear single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) marker set for subspecies identification and monitoring. However, the detection of the A. j. soemmeringii specific haplogroup by a newly designed Amplification-Refractory Mutation System (ARMS) can already provide support for conservation measures.

Funding

FWF Austrian Science Fund, Award: I5081- B/ GACR

Austrian Agency for International Cooperation in Education and Research, Award: ZA02/2019