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Subspecific Status of the Korean Tiger Inferred by Ancient DNA Analysis

  • Lee, Mu-Yeong (Conservation Genome Resource Bank for Korean Wildlife, Research Institute for Veterinary Science and College of Veterinary Medicine, Seoul National University) ;
  • Hyun, Jee-Yun (Conservation Genome Resource Bank for Korean Wildlife, Research Institute for Veterinary Science and College of Veterinary Medicine, Seoul National University) ;
  • Lee, Seo-Jin (Conservation Genome Resource Bank for Korean Wildlife, Research Institute for Veterinary Science and College of Veterinary Medicine, Seoul National University) ;
  • An, Jung-Hwa (Conservation Genome Resource Bank for Korean Wildlife, Research Institute for Veterinary Science and College of Veterinary Medicine, Seoul National University) ;
  • Lee, Eun-Ok (Conservation Genome Resource Bank for Korean Wildlife, Research Institute for Veterinary Science and College of Veterinary Medicine, Seoul National University) ;
  • Min, Mi-Sook (Conservation Genome Resource Bank for Korean Wildlife, Research Institute for Veterinary Science and College of Veterinary Medicine, Seoul National University) ;
  • Kimura, Junpei (Conservation Genome Resource Bank for Korean Wildlife, Research Institute for Veterinary Science and College of Veterinary Medicine, Seoul National University) ;
  • Kawada, Shin-Ichiro (Department of Zoology, National Museum of Nature and Science) ;
  • Kurihara, Nozomi (Department of Zoology, National Museum of Nature and Science) ;
  • Luo, Shu-Jin (Center for Life Sciences, School of Life Sciences, Peking University) ;
  • O'Brien, Stephen J. (Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, National Cancer Institute) ;
  • Johnson, Warren E. (Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, National Cancer Institute) ;
  • Lee, Hang (Conservation Genome Resource Bank for Korean Wildlife, Research Institute for Veterinary Science and College of Veterinary Medicine, Seoul National University)
  • Received : 2011.12.11
  • Accepted : 2012.01.13
  • Published : 2012.01.31

Abstract

The tiger population that once inhabited the Korean peninsula was initially considered a unique subspecies (Panthera tigris coreensis), distinct from the Amur tiger of the Russian Far East (P. t. altaica). However, in the following decades, the population of P. t. coreensis was classified as P. t. altaica and hence forth the two populations have been considered the same subspecies. From an ecological point of view, the classification of the Korean tiger population as P. t. altaica is a plausible conclusion. Historically, there were no major dispersal barriers between the Korean peninsula and the habitat of Amur tigers in Far Eastern Russia and northeastern China that might prevent gene flow, especially for a large carnivore with long-distance dispersal abilities. However, there has yet to be a genetic study to confirm the subspecific status of the Korean tiger. Bone samples from four tigers originally caught in the Korean peninsula were collected from two museums in Japan and the United States. Eight mitochondrial gene fragments were sequenced and compared to previously published tiger subspecies' mtDNA sequences to assess the phylogenetic relationship of the Korean tiger. Three individuals shared an identical haplotype with the Amur tigers. One specimen grouped with Malayan tigers, perhaps due to misidentification or mislabeling of the sample. Our results support the conclusion that the Korean tiger should be classified as P. t. altaica, which has important implications for the conservation and reintroduction of Korean tigers.

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