Landscape genetics, phylogeography and conservation of the okapi (Okapia johnstoni).

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: School of Biosciences


This studentship will focus on genetic analysis of the rare and enigmatic okapi - a range restricted ungulate of the central African rainforest found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The studentship will be carried out in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London's, Institute of Zooology and Conservation Programmes department, which is playing a leading role in coordinating conservation efforts for this surprisingly poorly known flagship species. The project will focus on using non-invasive genetic sampling to analyse the genetic structure of this species across its range - concentrating in detail on two sites at Virunga and Epulu and on four other sites where the species is known to be present, and will combine DNA profiling and sequencing of mitochondrial DNA for georeferenced samples and GIS to carry out the first major landscape genetics analysis for a species in this region. The study will comprise three components: 1) The student will quantify dispersal and gene-flow within Virunga National Park (VNP) and the Okapi Faunal Reserve (Reserve de la Faune de l'Okapi: RFO) using a landscape genetics approach for the region. Our collaborators at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) believe that VNP comprises four isolated populations, divided by the Semliki River and the Mbau-Kamango road and may also be demographically connected with RFO. The genetic structure of this species will be mapped to describe how landscape features are influencing population processes within and among these protected areas. This information will allow the maximization of the potential for conserving viable populations of this flagship taxon. 2) Large gaps currently exist in our knowledge of the basic ecology of okapi. The student will study dispersal and range size using non-invasive genetic methods within VNP and RFO. By using DNA profiles, including sexing of samples, population size and density will also be estimated for isolated populations within the reserves. 3) The student will attempt to reconstruct the evolutionary history of okapi throughout the species' range in the DRC. Large-scale population structure and past demographic processes will be investigated, to infer the biogeographic and demographic history of this species. Present day genetic diversity estimates will also be carried out for the first time throughout the range.


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