Genetic diversity of Propithecus verreauxi across Bezà Mahafaly Special Reserve Open Access
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Understanding how protection strategies influence the genetic diversity of endangered species can benefit conservation and research efforts. Recent expansion of Bezà Mahafaly Special Reserve (BMSR) in southwest Madagascar to include distinct areas that allow varying levels of human activity offers an opportunity to assess the impact of protection levels on the sifaka lemur (Propithecus verreauxi) population. Here, we report on preliminary measures of genetic diversity and differentiation across protection areas. We collected 67 fecal swab and pellet samples from sifakas across four areas of the reserve characterized by distinct protection levels and habitat types. We used DNA extracted from these samples to perform sex-typing and microsatellite genotyping at seven loci. We tested for Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, estimated average heterozygosity within each of the areas, and tested for differentiation in allele frequencies among the areas of the reserve. The success rate of microsatellite genotyping was above ninety percent, and six of the seven loci were in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium; these six loci were used for all subsequent analyses. The lowest level of heterozygosity was observed in the sustainable use zone, a newly established area with the lowest level of protection. This area also demonstrated significant differentiation from the other three areas in pairwise comparisons of allele frequencies. Larger-scale analyses regarding the impact of differing and changing protection levels at BMSR that integrate ecological and behavioral data with genetic information are ongoing across all areas.