NEW DELHI, Feb 23: While Indian tigers have the highest genetic variation compared to other subspecies of the feline across the world, their populations continue to be fragmented by loss of habitat, leading to inbreeding and potential loss of this diversity, says a new study that may inform conservation strategies.
“As human population started expanding, so also their signatures on the land. We know that some of these signatures would result in disrupting the ability of tigers to move,” Uma Ramakrishnan, co-author of the research, published in Molecular Biology and Evolution, said.
According to Ramakrishnan, molecular ecologist and assistant professor at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, this habitat loss from human activities leads to tigers being “hemmed into their own protected area”.
“Now, they can only mate with the other tigers in their own population. Over time, this will result in inbreeding, they will end up mating with their relatives,” she explained.
“Whether this inbreeding compromises their fitness, their ability to survive, we do not yet know,” she added.
While genetic diversity across a population improves their chances of survival in the future, the study said population fragmentation of tigers can decrease this variation, and endanger them further.
Although tigers have received significant conservation attention, the scientists said very little is known about their evolutionary history and genomic variation.
With 70 per cent of the world’s tigers living in India, the researchers said understanding the genetic diversity of tigers in the country is critical to the feline’s conservation worldwide. The results of their three-year long study offer insights into genomic variation in tigers and the processes that have sculpted it. – PTI