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Increasingly fragmented tiger populations may require ‘genetic rescue,’ Stanford researchers say

Tiger sitting on a rock
Image credit: Getty Images)
Feb 17 2021
Fellow, Research, Stanford, Students

Despite being one of the world’s most charismatic species, tigers face uncertain futures primarily due to habitat fragmentation, human-wildlife conflict and poaching. As global tiger populations decline, so does their genetic diversity. But until now it’s been unclear how the animals’ dwindling numbers are affecting them at the genetic level.

To find out, researchers at Stanford University, the National Centre for Biological Sciences, India, and various zoological parks and NGOs sequenced 65 genomes from four of the surviving tiger subspecies. Their findings confirmed that strong genetic differences exist between different tiger subspecies but showed, surprisingly, that these differences emerged relatively recently, as Earth underwent a major climatic shift and our own species grew increasingly dominant.

The research, detailed in a new paper published this week in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, shows how genomics can help guide conservation efforts toward wild tigers and other species, said study co-leader Elizabeth Hadly, the Paul S. and Billie Achilles Professor in Environmental Biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Study co-arthor is Sergio Redondo, a 2018 DARE Fellow .

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