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Conservation Genetics of the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), I: Evidence from the Mitochondrial DNA of Three Populations

Mary V. Ashley, Don J. Melnick and David Western
Conservation Biology
Vol. 4, No. 1 (Mar., 1990), pp. 71-77
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2385965
Page Count: 7
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Conservation Genetics of the Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), I: Evidence from the Mitochondrial DNA of Three Populations
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Abstract

A drastic decline in the number of black rhinoceroses (Diceros bicornis), primarily as a result of poaching, places this species in imminent danger of extinction. The remaining black rhinos are divided into small, isolated populations that are vulnerable to demographic extinction, disease epidemics, genetic drift, and inbreeding. Some conservationists have suggested minimizing these threats by moving as many animals as possible from different isolated populations to a few safe "rhino sanctuaries." To examine the possible long-term genetic consequences of such a strategy, we focused our efforts on determining the level of genetic differences among the remaining black rhino populations by examining restriction fragment length polymorphisms of the rapidly evolving mitochondrial DNA molecule. The 23 black rhinos in our survey, including animals from three geographic regions and two named subspecies, showed very little mitochondrial DNA differentiation. Only 4 out of 18 restriction enzymes revealed any mtDNA polymorphisms, and the average estimated percent sequence divergence between the four mtDNA genotypes observed as 0.17%. Mitochondrial DNA divergence between the two named subspecies, D. b. minor and D. b. michaeli, was estimated to be only 0.29%. These results indicate a very close genetic relationship among the black rhinos in our survey. Thus, the mitochondrial DNA data suggest that within national boundaries, the black rhino populations we sampled may be considered single populations for breeding purposes, which might increase the species' probability of survival.

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