Genetic variation, structure and dispersal among Cape buffalo populations from the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and Kruger National Parks of South Africa Barend Jacobus (Ben) Greyling Doctor of Philosophy (Zoology) Department of Zoology and Entomology Supervisor: Prof. Armanda Slager-Bastos Co-supervisor: Dr. Pim van Hooft 2007 The research reported on in this thesis is aimed at quantifying and qualifying, using a molecular genetics approach, some of the factors that influence the population dynamics of Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) from the Kruger National Park (KNP) and Hluhluwe-imFolozi park (HiP) in South Africa. Prior to large-scale genotyping of animals sampled from these parks, a high-throughput, cost- and time-effective profiling system was developed. The system, based on a panel of 17 microsatellites (Msats), was found to be quite suitable for the intended application, since it uncovered substantial genetic variation, while exclusion probabilities were in excess of 0.999 and a random match probability of 6.5 x 10-17 was obtained. Inter-population level analyses revealed that the two populations were significantly differentiated (Msat data: FST = 0.159; mtDNA data: FST = 0.275), while little or no differentiation could be demonstrated among most herds and subpopulations. It seems that while drift has played a major role in divergence of the two populations, gene flow is the primary driving force behind the maintenance of genetic variation among herds and subpopulations. A striking feature was that HiP exhibited significant lower levels of genetic variation than KNP, which is reflected by the fact that a mere 4 haplotypes could be found in HiP compared to 34 identified in KNP. The absence of geographic partitioning and small genetic distances separating the haplotypes may be attributed to genetic contact between the respective populations in the distant past. The reduced levels of genetic variation in HiP may be the remnants of the rinderpest bottleneck. HiP also displayed signals of a population contraction, while KNP is in equilibrium and seems to have retained substantial levels of genetic variation. HiP also experienced a steady decline in genetic variation from 1986 to 2004, while sex-biased dispersal was less pronounced in HiP than in KNP, possibly due to the lack of mtDNA diversity and the small size of the park. The results presented here provide valuable baseline information for making conservation management decisions from a genetic point of view.
Thesis (PhD (Zoology))--University of Pretoria, 2007.