Tuesday 17 October 2006 at 21:29
A recent paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Barnett et al. 2006. 273(1598): 2119-25).
Understanding the phylogeographic processes affecting endangered species is crucial both to interpreting their evolutionary history and to the establishment of conservation strategies. Lions provide a key opportunity to explore such processes; however, a lack of genetic diversity and shortage of suitable samples has until now hindered such investigation. We used mitochondrial control region DNA (mtDNA) sequences to investigate the phylogeographic history of modern lions, using samples from across their entire range. We find the sub-Saharan African lions are basal among modern lions, supporting a single African origin model of modern lion evolution, equivalent to the 'recent African origin' model of modern human evolution. We also find the greatest variety of mtDNA haplotypes in the centre of Africa, which may be due to the distribution of physical barriers and continental-scale habitat changes caused by Pleistocene glacial oscillations. Our results suggest that the modern lion may currently consist of three geographic populations on the basis of their recent evolutionary history: North African-Asian, southern African and middle African. Future conservation strategies should take these evolutionary subdivisions into consideration.
Paper available at: http://abc.zoo.ox.ac.uk/Papers/prslb06_lions.pdf