The evolutionary history of a species is key for understanding the taxonomy and for the design of effective management strategies for species conservation. The knowledge about the phylogenetic position of the lion (Panthera leo) in West/Central Africa is largely based on mitochondrial markers. Previous studies using mtDNA only have shown this region to hold a distinct evolutionary lineage. In addition, anthropogenic factors have led to a strong decline in West/Central African lion numbers, thus, the conservation value of these populations is particularly high. Here, we investigate whether autosomal markers are concordant with previously described phylogeographic patterns, and confirm the unique position of the West/Central African lion. Analysis of 20 microsatellites and 1,454 bp of the mitochondrial DNA in 16 lion populations representing the entire geographic range of the species found congruence in both types of markers, identifying four clusters: 1) West/Central Africa, 2) East Africa, 3) Southern Africa and 4) India. This is not in line with the current taxonomy, as defined by the IUCN, which only recognizes an African and an Asiatic subspecies. There are no indications that genetic diversity in West/Central Africa lions is lower than in either East or Southern Africa, however, given this genetic distinction and the recent declines of lion numbers in this region, we strongly recommend prioritization of conservation projects in West/Central Africa. As the current taxonomic nomenclature does not reflect the evolutionary history of the lion, we suggest that a taxonomic revision of the lion is warranted.
- panthera-leo mitochondrial-DNA population-genetics phylogenetic trees computer-program conservation diversity phylogeography evolutionary software Science & Technology - Other Topics