Comparing In-Situ and Ex-Situ Patterns of Genetic Diversity in Snow Leopards (Panthera Uncia) for Conservation and Management

Amanda Marie Makkay, Fordham University


The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is a highly specialized member of Felidae and is classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Ex situ snow leopard populations have been maintained in North American zoos for over a century. The aim of this dissertation was to help understand how to best manage snow leopards, by investigation of the wild population to see if they can traverse landscapes and if the ex situ population represents a reservoir of genetic diversity. Using modern molecular tools, I have contributed to the scientific body of knowledge on how genetic structuring responds to increased fragmentation, which will be increasingly valuable with respects to climate change. I have provided the first baseline genetic assessment of snow leopards across much of their range utilizing both mitochondrial DNA and autosomal microsatellite loci. I found two genetically distinct populations. These data suggest that snow leopards do not move freely among sampled regions. While more samples and additional gene regions are needed to establish details of movement, my data suggest that difference in patterns may be due to sex biased dispersal. I explored if the genetic diversity found in the wild snow leopard population was captured in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) population. I found that while overall measures of nuclear genetic diversity, such as heterozygosity were similar, distinct components of diversity found in the wild are not present, suggesting that the AZA collection is not representative of the wild. Finally, I assessed the AZA population to see if metrics of genetic diversity, calculated by the studbook differ from the same measures of genetic diversity, when empirically determined by molecular methods. Studbook based assessments of diversity for snow leopards do not change drastically between modeled and empirically derived data. I would caution mangers before extrapolating these results to other species that the snow leopard studbook is an example of excellent documentation. For species with absent, or limited documentation, it is worth investing in a genetic survey. In the case of the AZA snow leopard population, the population should continue to be managed per the studbook.

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Recommended Citation

Makkay, Amanda Marie, "Comparing In-Situ and Ex-Situ Patterns of Genetic Diversity in Snow Leopards (Panthera Uncia) for Conservation and Management" (2017). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10274071.