Valdez, F. P., Haag, T., Azevedo, F. C. C., Silveira, L., Cavalcanti, S. M. C., Salzano, F. M., & Eizirik, E. (2015). Population Genetics of Jaguars (Panthera onca) in the Brazilian Pantanal: Molecular Evidence for Demographic Connectivity on a Regional Scale. Journal of Heredity, 106(S1), 503–511.
Habitat loss and fragmentation are important threats to carnivores worldwide, and can be especially intense for large predators. Jaguars have already been extirpated from over half of their original area of distribution, and few regions still maintain large populations. For these, detailed understanding is crucial for setting appropriate recovery targets in impacted areas. The Pantanal is among the best examples of a region with a large jaguar population in a healthy environment. Here, we analyzed 12 microsatellite loci to characterize genetic diversity and population structure of 52 jaguars sampled in 4 localities of the southern Pantanal, and compared them with prior studies of heavily fragmented populations of the Atlantic Forest. Although we observed some internal structure among the Pantanal localities, our results indicated that this area comprises a single population with high genetic variability. Moreover, our comparative analyses supported the hypothesis that the strong population structure observed in the Atlantic Forest derives from recent, anthropogenic fragmentation. We also observed significant but low levels of genetic differentiation between the Pantanal and Atlantic Forest populations, indicating recent connectivity between jaguars occurring in these biomes. Evidence for admixture between the Pantanal and a population on the western boundary of the Atlantic Forest corroborates the transitional nature of the latter area, where the jaguar population has already been extirpated. Our results can be used to understand jaguar population dynamics in a region that is less disturbed than the Atlantic forest, and to support the design of conservation strategies that maintain and restore natural connectivity among currently isolated areas.