Spatiotemporal Genetic Diversity of Lions Reveals the Influence of Habitat Fragmentation across Africa. Academic Article uri icon


  • Direct comparisons between historical and contemporary populations allow for detecting changes in genetic diversity through time and assessment of the impact of habitat fragmentation. Here, we determined the genetic architecture of both historical and modern lions to document changes in genetic diversity over the last century. We surveyed microsatellite and mitochondrial genome variation from 143 high-quality museum specimens of known provenance, allowing us to directly compare this information with data from several recently published nuclear and mitochondrial studies. Our results provide evidence for male-mediated gene flow and recent isolation of local subpopulations, likely due to habitat fragmentation. Nuclear markers showed a significant decrease in genetic diversity from the historical (HE=0.833) to the modern (HE=0.796) populations, whereas mitochondrial genetic diversity was maintained (Hd=0.98 for both). Although the historical population appears to have been panmictic based on nDNA data, hierarchical structure analysis identified four tiers of genetic structure in modern populations and was able to detect most sampling locations. Mitogenome analyses identified four clusters: Southern, Mixed, Eastern, and Western and were consistent between modern and historically sampled haplotypes. Within the last century, habitat fragmentation caused lion subpopulations to become more geographically isolated as human expansion changed the African landscape. This resulted in an increase in fine-scale nuclear genetic structure and loss of genetic diversity as lion subpopulations became more differentiated, whereas mitochondrial structure and diversity were maintained over time.

published proceedings

  • Mol Biol Evol

altmetric score

  • 102.06

author list (cited authors)

  • Curry, C. J., Davis, B. W., Bertola, L. D., White, P. A., Murphy, W. J., & Derr, J. N.

citation count

  • 11

complete list of authors

  • Curry, Caitlin J||Davis, Brian W||Bertola, Laura D||White, Paula A||Murphy, William J||Derr, James N

editor list (cited editors)

  • Heye, E.

publication date

  • January 2021