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African forest antelope


Non-invasive genetic sampling of forest antelope populations

The field of conservation genetics, in combination with non-invasive sampling, provides a powerful set of tools for investigating the conservation status and natural history of rare species that are otherwise difficult to study. This is certainly the case for many forest-associated antelope species, which are poorly studied and yet constitute some of the most heavily hunted wildlife in Africa. The aim of our research is to use non-invasive sampling to investigate genetic patterns in forest antelope populations in the high-biodiversity Udzungwa Mountains, Tanzania, within the context of the conservation of these species and the wider ecosystem.

In the current study genetic information was derived from faecal samples collected across the Udzungwa landscape and assigned to five antelope species (N = 618, collected 2006-09). Faecal pellet length was measured for a subset of samples but statistical assignment to species by this method proved unreliable. Phylogenetic analysis using mitochondrial control region sequences unexpectedly revealed that Harvey’s duiker within the Udzungwas are paraphyletic with respect to sequences from a putative sister species from southern Africa. However, there was no corresponding pattern in the microsatellite dataset suggesting that these mitochondrial lineages do not represent contemporary genetic isolation. Instead, Harvey’s duiker nuclear variation is shaped both by isolation by distance, due to positive spatial autocorrelation at short distances, and clustering of distinct genotypes from western outlying forests. These forests also harbour the endangered Abbott’s duiker and therefore require effective conservation management. Despite being detected throughout the Udzungwas, genetic diversity in Abbott’s duiker was very low in comparison to other species and sampling populations from elsewhere in Tanzania is needed to assess its overall genetic status.

This research was undertaken as part of a PhD by Andrew Bowkett in collaboration with the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust's Highland East Africa Programme.


Bowkett, A.E., T. Jones, F. Rovero, M.R. Nielsen, A.B. Plowman and J.R. Stevens (2015) Genetic patterns in forest antelope populations in the Udzungwa mountains, Tanzania, as inferred from non-invasive sampling.  Journal of East African Natural History, 104 (1&2): 91–125.

Bowkett, A.E., Jones, T., Rovero, F., Nielsen, M.R., Davenport, T.R.B., Hawkins, D., Plowman, A.B. and Stevens, J.R. (2014) Distribution and genetic diversity of the Endangered Abbott’s duiker Cephalophus spadix in the Udzungwa Mountains, Tanzania. Endangered Species Research, 24: 105-114

Bowkett, A.E., Jones, T., Laizzer, R.L., Plowman, A.B. and Stevens, J.R. (2013). Can molecular data validate morphometric identification of faecal pellets in Tanzanian forest antelope species? Conservation Genetics Resources, 5: 1095-1100

Jones, T. and Bowkett A.E. (2012) New populations of an Endangered Tanzanian antelope confirmed using DNA and camera-traps. Oryx, 46: 14-15

Ntie, S., Johnston, A.R., Mickala, P., Bowkett, A.E., Jansen van Vuuren, B., Colyn, M., Telfer, P., Maisels, F., Hymas, O., Rouyer, R.L., Wallace R.A., LeBlanc, K., van Vliet, N., Sonet, G., Verheyen, E., Pires, D., Wickings, E.J., Lahm, S.A. and Anthony, N.M. (2010) A molecular diagnostic for identifying Central African forest artiodactyls from faecal pellets. Animal Conservation, 13: 80-93

Bowkett, A.E., Plowman, A.B., Stevens, J.R., Davenport, T.R.B. and Jansen van Vuuren, B (2009) Genetic testing of dung identification for antelope surveys in the Udzungwa Mountains, Tanzania. Conservation Genetics, 10: 251-255

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