Analytical DNA fingerprinting in lions: Parentage, genetic diversity, and kinship

D. A. Gilbert, C. Packer, A. E. Pusey, J. C. Stephens, S. J. O'brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

128 Scopus citations


The application of hypervariable minisatellite genomic families to the reconstruction of population genetic structure holds great promise in describing the demographic history and future prospects of free-ranging populations. This potential has not yet been realized due to unforeseen empirical constraints associated with the use of heterologous species probes, to theoretical limitations on the power of the procedure to track genic heterozygosity and kinship, and to the absence of extensive field studies to test genetic predictions. We combine here the technical development of feline-specific VNTR (variable number tandem repeat) families of genetic loci with the long-term demographic and behavioral observations of lion populations of the Serengeti ecosystem in East Africa. Minisatellite variation was used to quantify the extent of genetic variation in several populations that differed in their natural history and levels of inbreeding. Definitive parentage, both maternal and paternal, was assessed for 78 cubs born in 11 lion prides, permitting the assessment of precise genealogical relationships among some 200 lions. The extent of DNA restriction fragment sharing between lions was empirically calibrated with the coefficient of relatedness, r, in two different populations that had distinct demographic histories. The results suggest that reliable estimates of relative genetic diversity, of parentage, and of individual relatedness can be achieved in free-ranging populations, provided the minisatellite family is calibrated in established pedigrees for the species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)378-386
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Heredity
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1991

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