Thursday, February 27, 2020

[Mammalogy • 2020] Ailurus fulgens & A. styani • Genomic Evidence for Two Phylogenetic Species and Long-term Population Bottlenecks in Red Pandas

Chinese red panda Ailurus styani Thomas, 1902

 Himalayan red panda Ailurus fulgens F. Cuvier, 1825

in Hu, Thapa, Fan, et al., 2020. 

The red panda (Ailurus fulgens), an endangered Himalaya-endemic mammal, has been classified as two subspecies or even two species – the Himalayan red panda (A. fulgens) and the Chinese red panda (Ailurus styani) – based on differences in morphology and biogeography. However, this classification has remained controversial largely due to lack of genetic evidence, directly impairing scientific conservation management. Data from 65 whole genomes, 49 Y-chromosomes, and 49 mitochondrial genomes provide the first comprehensive genetic evidence for species divergence in red pandas, demonstrating substantial inter-species genetic divergence for all three markers and correcting species-distribution boundaries. Combined with morphological evidence, these data thus clearly define two phylogenetic species in red pandas. We also demonstrate different demographic trajectories in the two species: A. styani has experienced two population bottlenecks and one large population expansion over time, whereas A. fulgens has experienced three bottlenecks and one very small expansion, resulting in very low genetic diversity, high linkage disequilibrium, and high genetic load.

Fig. 1 Distinguishing morphological differences between two red panda species. (A and C) The Chinese red panda Ailurus styani. (B and D) The Himalayan red panda Ailurus fulgens
 (A and B) The face coat color of the Chinese red panda is redder with less white on it than that of the Himalayan red panda. (C and D) The tail rings of the Chinese red panda are more distinct than those of the Himalayan red panda, with the dark rings being more dark red and the pale rings being more whitish. 

Photo credit: (A) Yunfang Xiu, Straits (Fuzhou) Giant Panda Research and Exchange Center, China; does not require permission. (B) Arjun Thapa, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. (C) Yibo Hu, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. (D) Chiranjibi Prasad Pokheral, Central Zoo, Jawalkhel, Lalitpur, Nepal.

Ailurus fulgens F. Cuvier, 1825
Ailurus styani Thomas, 1902


Yibo Hu, Arjun Thapa, Huizhong Fan, Tianxiao Ma, Qi Wu, Shuai Ma, Dongling Zhang, Bing Wang, Min Li, Li Yan and Fuwen Wei. 2020. Genomic Evidence for Two Phylogenetic Species and Long-term Population Bottlenecks in Red Pandas. Science Advances. 6(9); eaax5751. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax5751

Red panda genes suggest there are actually two different species