Journal Article

Large-Scale Genetic Survey Provides Insights into the Captive Management and Reintroduction of Giant Pandas

Lei Shan, Yibo Hu, Lifeng Zhu, Li Yan, Chengdong Wang, Desheng Li, Xuelin Jin, Chenglin Zhang and Fuwen Wei

in Molecular Biology and Evolution

Volume 31, issue 10, pages 2663-2671
Published in print October 2014 | ISSN: 0737-4038
Published online July 2014 | e-ISSN: 1537-1719 | DOI:
Large-Scale Genetic Survey Provides Insights into the Captive Management and Reintroduction of Giant Pandas

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  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Molecular and Cell Biology


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The captive genetic management of threatened species strives to preserve genetic diversity and avoid inbreeding to ensure populations remain available, healthy, and viable for future reintroduction. Determining and responding to the genetic status of captive populations is therefore paramount to these programs. Here, we genotyped 19 microsatellite loci for 240 captive giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) (∼64% of the captive population) from four breeding centers, Wolong (WL), Chengdu (CD), Louguantai (LGT), and Beijing (BJ), and analyzed 655 bp of mitochondrial DNA control region sequence for 220 of these animals. High levels of genetic diversity and low levels of inbreeding were estimated in the breeding centers, indicating that the captive population is genetically healthy and deliberate further genetic input from wild animals is unnecessary. However, the LGT population faces a higher risk of inbreeding, and significant genetic structure was detected among breeding centers, with LGT–CD and WL–BJ clustering separately. Based on these findings, we highlight that: 1) the LGT population should be managed as an independent captive population to resemble the genetic distinctness of their Qinling Mountain origins; 2) exchange between CD and WL should be encouraged because of similar wild founder sources; 3) the selection of captive individuals for reintroduction should consider their geographic origin, genetic background, and genetic contribution to wild populations; and 4) combining our molecular genetic data with existing pedigree data will better guide giant panda breeding and further reduce inbreeding into the future.

Keywords: giant panda; genetic diversity; inbreeding; captive management; reintroduction

Journal Article.  5471 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Evolutionary Biology ; Molecular and Cell Biology

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