Analysis of DNA sequence diversity at the 12S to 16S mitochondrial genes of 165 African lions (Panthera leo) from five main areas in Zambia has uncovered haplotypes which link Southern Africa with East Africa. Phylogenetic analysis suggests Zambia may serve as a bridge connecting the lion populations in southern Africa to eastern Africa, supporting earlier hypotheses that eastern-southern Africa may represent the evolutionary cradle for the species. Overall gene diversity throughout the Zambian lion population was 0.7319 +/- 0.0174 with eight haplotypes found; three haplotypes previously described and the remaining five novel. The addition of these five novel haplotypes, so far only found within Zambia, nearly doubles the number of haplotypes previously reported for any given geographic location of wild lions. However, based on an AMOVA analysis of these haplotypes, there is little to no matrilineal gene flow (FST = 0.47) when the eastern and western regions of Zambia are considered as two regional sub-populations. Crossover haplotypes (H9, H11, and Z1) appear in both populations as rare in one but common in the other. This pattern is a possible result of the lion mating system in which predominately males disperse, as all individuals with crossover haplotypes were male. The determination and characterization of lion sub-populations, such as done in this study for Zambia, represent a higher-resolution of knowledge regarding both the genetic health and connectivity of lion populations, which can serve to inform conservation and management of this iconic species.
Curry, C. J., White, P. A., & Derr, J. N. (2015). Mitochondrial haplotype diversity in Zambian lions: Bridging a gap in the biogeography of an iconic species. PLoS ONE, 10(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0143827