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Puma Genetic Diversity Struggles

By sequencing pumas from all over North and South America, researchers hope to be able to better identify inbreeding and inform conservation efforts, Cosmos magazine reports.

Researchers led by the University of California, Santa Cruz's Beth Shapiro generated a draft genome of a mountain lion living in the Santa Cruz Mountains and compared it to the genomes of nine other pumas. As they report in Nature Communications, Shapiro and her colleagues used that data to reconstruct the cats' demographic history. They traced North American pumas' origins back to a South America population that moved north about 200,000 years ago and uncovered signs of inbreeding among isolated North American puma populations.

Florida panthers are particularly isolated, and in the 1990s, cougars from Texas were introduced there to boost genetic diversity. A University of Arizona-led team reported in G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics last month that the introduction of those Texas pumas increased the diversity of the Floridian cats.

But in this study, UCSC's Shapiro and her colleagues note that even with that recent outbreeding, Florida panthers still harbor long tracts of homozygosity. "The big takeaway is that translocation worked, but the lights are going to go off because they continue to inbreed," she tells Cosmos.