Genetic structure of captive and free-ranging okapi (**Okapia johnstoni**) with implications for management
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Conservation genetics. - Place of publication unknown
, p. 1115-1126
University of Antwerp
Breeding programs for endangered species increasingly use molecular genetics to inform their management strategies. Molecular approaches can be useful for investigating relatedness, resolving pedigree uncertainties, and for estimating genetic diversity in captive and wild populations. Genetic data can also be used to evaluate the representation of wild population genomes within captive population gene-pools. Maintaining a captive population that is genetically representative of its wild counterpart offers a means of conserving the original evolutionary potential of a species. Okapi, an even-toed ungulate, endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo, have recently been reclassified as Endangered by the IUCN. We carried out a genetic assessment of the ex-situ okapi (Okapia johnstoni) population, alongside an investigation into the genetic structure of wild populations across their geographic range. We found that while levels of nuclear (12 microsatellite loci) genetic variation in the wild, founder and captive okapi populations were similar, mitochondrial (833 bp of Cyt b, CR, tRNA-Thr and tRNA-Pro) variation within captive okapi was considerably reduced compared to the wild, with 16 % lower haplotype diversity. Further, both nuclear and mitochondrial alleles present in captivity provided only partial representation of those present in the wild. Thirty mitochondrial haplotypes found in the wild were not found in captivity, and two haplotypes found in captivity were not found in the wild, and the patterns of genetic variation at microsatellite loci in our captive samples were considerably different to those of the wild samples. Our study highlights the importance of genetic characterisation of captive populations, even for well-managed ex-situ breeding programs with detailed studbooks. We recommend that the captive US population should be further genetically characterised to guide management of translocations between European and US captive populations.