Origin and phylogeography of African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) in Kruger and nearby parks in southern Africa

Alida de Flamingh, Alfred L. Roca, Rudi J. van Aarde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) occur in fragmented and isolated populations across southern Africa. Transfrontier conservation efforts aim at preventing the negative effects of population fragmentation by maintaining and restoring linkages between protected areas. We sought to identify genetic linkages by comparing the elephants in Kruger National Park (South Africa) to populations in nearby countries (Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe). We used a 446 base pair mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region fragment (141 individuals) and 9 nuclear DNA (nDNA) microsatellite markers (69 individuals) to investigate phylogenetic relationships and gene flow among elephant populations. The mtDNA and nDNA phylogeographic patterns were incongruent, with mtDNA patterns likely reflecting the effects of ancient female migrations, with patterns persisting due to female philopatry, and nDNA patterns likely reflecting male-mediated dispersal. Kruger elephant heterozygosity and differentiation were examined, and were not consistent with genetic isolation, a depleted gene pool or a strong founder effect. Mitochondrial DNA geographic patterns suggested that the Kruger population was founded by elephants from areas both north and south of Kruger, or has been augmented through migration from more than one geographic source. We discuss our findings in light of the need for conservation initiatives that aim at maintaining or restoring connectivity among populations. Such initiatives may provide a sustainable, self-regulating management approach for elephants in southern Africa while maintaining genetic diversity within and gene flow between Kruger and nearby regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-167
Number of pages13
JournalConservation Genetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • African elephant
  • Fecal DNA
  • Gene flow
  • Kruger National Park
  • Loxodonta africana
  • Phylogeography
  • Population structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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