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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Phylogeography of Panthera tigris in the mangrove forest of the Sundarbans

M. Abdul Aziz*, Olutolani Smith, Hazel A. Jackson, Simon Tollington, Sean Darlow, Adam Barlow, Md. Anwarul Islam, Jim J. Groombridge

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Tigers Panthera tigris in the Sundarbans represent the only population adapted to living in mangrove forest. Several studies, based on limited morphological and genetic data, have described the population as being differentiated from the Bengal tiger subspecies P. tigris tigris. Phylogenetic ancestry of the Sundarbans population has also remained poorly understood. We generated 1263 base pairs of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence across 4 mtDNA genes for 33 tiger samples from the Bangladesh Sundarbans, and compared these with 33 mtDNA haplotypes known from all subspecies of extant tigers. We detected 3 haplotypes within the Sundarbans tigers, of which one is unique to this population while the remaining 2 haplotypes are shared with tiger populations inhabiting central Indian landscapes. Phylogenetic analyses using maximum likelihood and Bayesian inferences supported the Sundarbans tigers as being paraphyletic, indicating a close phylogenetic relationship with other populations of Bengal tigers, from which the Sundarbans population diverged around 26000 years ago. Our phylogenetic analyses, together with evidence of ecological adaptation to the unique mangrove habitat, indicate that the Sundarbans population should be recognised as a separate Management Unit. We recommend that conservation management must focus on sustaining this representative tiger population adapted to mangrove habitat, whilst at the same time recognising that trans-boundary conservation efforts through reintroduction or exchange of individuals, to enhance genetic diversity, might be needed in future as a last resort for population recovery.