Change in land use patterns and roads in central Indian landscape are disrupting genetic connectivity of gaur and sambar: NCBS study  

Updated - July 09, 2024 09:28 pm IST

Published - July 09, 2024 09:27 pm IST - Bengaluru:

The study also highlights the need for intervention to protect the gaur populations in small protected areas, like Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary, Maharashtra.

The study also highlights the need for intervention to protect the gaur populations in small protected areas, like Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary, Maharashtra. | Photo Credit: file photo

A recent study from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) has revealed that change in land use patterns and roads in the central Indian landscape are disrupting the genetic connectivity of two large herbivores: the gaur and the sambar.

This study is the first to examine the genetic connectivity of large herbivores at a landscape scale in India.

The study also highlights the need for intervention to protect the gaur populations in small protected areas, like Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary, Maharashtra.

Herbivores crucial

“Herbivores are crucial for maintaining the ecosystem, yet most species remain understudied. While the connectivity of carnivores has been investigated, little is known about how herbivores respond to habitat modification and fragmentation. This study underscores that different species have varying needs for connectivity and traversing the landscape,” said Abhinav Tyagi, lead author of the study.

The NCBS said that habitat loss and fragmentation are major drivers of species extinction across the globe.

It added that central India, like other areas of conservation concern, faces threats from growing linear infrastructure, such as highways, railway lines, and changes in land use patterns, expanding road network, mining activities and other development projects.

Fragmented population

“Such infrastructures hinder animal movement creating fragmented populations confined within small habitat patches disconnected from each other. Maintaining movement among habitat patches usually results in mating and genetic exchange, the loss of which can increase the probability of species extinction,” it said.

To investigate genetic connectivity, the research team collected hundreds of faecal samples of gaurs and sambars from Kanha Tiger Reserve, Pench Tiger Reserve, Nagzira-Nawagaon Tiger Reserve, Bor Tiger Reserve, Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary, and the wildlife corridor between Kanha and Pench Tiger reserves.

Using next-generation sequencing (NGS) and combination of population and landscape genetic tools, the team investigated whether the species comprised a single contiguous population across the landscape or were fragmented into distinct groups.

Genetic diversity

They analysed the genetic diversity of the gaur and the sambar, which is crucial for any species to adapt to sudden environmental changes, diseases, climate shifts, and other stress. The research team also examined natural and artificial landscape features that could hinder animal movement, and whether the gaur and the sambar responded differently to those features.

The study highlights that the gaur is most impacted by land use and land cover changes, roads with high traffic and high density of linear infrastructure.

The findings indicate high genetic differentiation, suggesting that the animals are present in small populations with little to no gene flow (for example, Bor Tiger Reserve). These fragmented gaur populations also show low levels of genetic diversity.

Researchers are concerned that despite being centrally located, among the other protected areas in the landscape, Umred Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary with a small population is most genetically differentiated and needs conservation attention.

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