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Iberian lynx 'not doomed' despite tiny population size

The Iberian lynx one of the world’s most endangered big cats, however new research shows the species has had very little genetic diversity for thousands of years.

Image: Wikicommons via Creative Commons

THE IBERIAN LYNX, which was once a species in plentiful supply across the Iberian peninsula, is now the most endangered carnivore in Europe – however new research suggests that the species’ chance of survival may not decrease along with its  low genetic diversity.

Researchers studying Iberian lynx DNA from fossils have concluded that the species has shown very little genetic variation over the last 50,000 years – which suggests that a small population size is quite normal for the big cat. The study, which involved researchers from Spain, Denmark and Sweden, focused on mitochondrial DNA – part of the genome that is seen as very variable, reports Physorg.com.

“To see so little genetic diversity over such a long period of time indicates that populations sizes were moderate”, said a co-author of the study, Professor Mark Thomas from the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London.

“If small populations can exist for so long and with so little genetic diversity then this must say something about the survivability of similar endangered species today,” he added.

Today, lynx are found in two small isolated populations in southern Spain – although in the past they roamed across the peninsula. The destruction of their natural habitat and reduction of the main source of their food, rabbit, have been blamed for the population receding.

Another of the study’s authors, Dr Love Dalen from the Swedish Museum of Natural History, said that there was a “difference between being inbred and suffering from it”, the BBC reports. “There is a possibility that some species can handle (inbreeding)… One reason is that they simply don’t carry that many bad genes; the other is that natural selection may eventually purge it from the population,” she said.

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There are currently about 250 Iberian lynx living in the wild.

Read: Over 31,000 different species call Ireland home>

Read: American wildcat declared extinct>

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