Emerging patterns of genetic diversity in the critically endangered Malayan tiger

Southeast Asia experiences some of the highest deforestation in the world. Loss of tropical forest typically leads to widespread habitat fragmentation, with detrimental effects on dispersal ability and gene flow—particularly for large carnivores. We conducted mtDNA and microsatellite analysis to assess—for the first time—contemporary patterns of genetic diversity in the Malayan tiger. We collected 295 suspected carnivore samples in Peninsular Malaysia, from which we identified 26 as originating from tigers using 16 polymorphic microsatellite loci, comprising 22 individual tigers. Despite the limitations of the study, our findings suggest tiger subpopulations in the north of the peninsula maintain some genetic connectivity and migration between two putative geographic subpopulations in the Main Range and Greater Taman Negara, with negligible population segregation due to dispersal barriers such as road infrastructure. We identified consistently lower levels of genetic diversity in tigers in the Greater Taman Negara region compared to tigers in the Main Range and small but emerging differences in nuclear and mitochondrial genetic diversity. Our mtDNA haplotype and nuclear DNA analyses suggest the levels of genetic diversity in Malayan tigers may be among some of the lowest of the surviving tiger subspecies, though the study is limited both in scale and genomic loci. Our findings are consistent with an expected lag between the rapid decline of tigers in Peninsular Malaysia by over 95% in the last 70 years and observed differences in their levels of genetic diversity.

Allberry, K., Rovie-Ryan, J.J., Ali, N.A.N.G. et al. Emerging patterns of genetic diversity in the critically endangered Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni). Biodivers Conserv 33, 1325–1349 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-024-02799-9

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