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ScienceShot: Iberian Lynx Not Jinxed by Genetics

Martin is a contributing news editor and writer based in Amsterdam

A study of ancient DNA has given scientists more hope that the world's most endangered cat species can be salvaged. Habitat destruction and the decline of its main prey, the European rabbit, have caused the population of the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) to plummet below 300 individuals in two isolated areas in Spain. Scientists are trying to help with a breeding program, but some believe a lack of genetic diversity—which leads to inbreeding problems and an inability to adapt to change—may doom the species. Now, a study of DNA found in fossil bones shows that the Iberian lynx has had very low genetic diversity, and presumably small populations, for at least 50,000 years. For reasons that are unclear, it always got by, the researchers conclude in their paper in Molecular Ecology. So if the lynx is lost, they say, don't blame its genes; blame the lack of political will to save it.

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Posted in Plants & Animals, Europe