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Genetics to genomics: Conservation of the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) on local and global scales

Du Plessis, Sarah 2023. Genetics to genomics: Conservation of the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) on local and global scales. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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The Eurasian otter has experienced recent, severe population declines across Britain and western Europe, followed by striking recoveries across many of these populations. In Asia however, the species is experiencing declines in many populations due to habitat loss, fragmentation and illegal trade. Characterising the genetic diversity, population structure and phylogeny of the species across its vast geographic range will facilitate targeted conservation of this threatened species. In this thesis I use genomic tools to assess the status of the species on both small and large geographic scales and highlight the importance of historical DNA for future work. I assess differences between established genetic markers and novel genomic data in the well-studied populations in Britain and use genomic data to provide a detailed characterisation of the recent bottleneck across populations and highlight potential gene flow from Asia. I use mitochondrial genomes to evaluate subspecies classifications and mitochondrial diversity, with a focus on east Asia, identifying five distinct lineages which are discordant with current subspecies classifications. I highlight the potential of trophy hunting paws collected in the early 1900s as sources of historical DNA for otters in Britain, to evaluate past population structure, and the effect of subsequent population bottlenecks. Finally, using whole genome sequencing of samples from across the species’ range, I identify a longitudinal gradient from low genetic diversity in Europe to high in east Asia. I also identify corridors and barriers to gene flow on a continental scale, highlighting specific geographic regions which are crucial to protect, in order to maintain present-day and recent gene flow among populations. This thesis highlights the importance of upgrading population genetic analyses from genetic to genomic approaches, and the value of genomic assessments of broad-ranging species, such as the Eurasian otter, in understanding their history, and therefore facilitating their conservation into the future.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Biosciences
Subjects: Q Science > Q Science (General)
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 January 2024
Last Modified: 31 Jan 2024 14:01

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