Tigers meet, mix in forest corridors

In India, narrow strips of wild land connect small groups of cats

Tigers prowl through strips of forest in central India, mixing genes and keeping the populations healthy.

Sandeep Sharma and Trishna Dutta

Endangered tigers’ habitats have been carved up in central India, but the cats still prowl through strips of forest that connect these far-flung populations, a new study finds. These corridors enable the estimated 273 tigers in the area to intermingle and stay genetically strong, researchers report online July 30 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Using historical data and genetic analyses, Sandeep Sharma of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., and his colleagues illuminated the tigers’ story: In recent centuries, as roads, factories, mining operations and railroads started to impinge on wild terrain, India’s tiger population splintered into smaller, distinct groups. But several of these groups remain connected by tendrils of pristine forest, the researchers found, allowing the cats to maintain a healthy mix of genes.

Currently, these forest pathways have no legal protection in India. A mining company has just applied for a lease that would sever one corridor in the study, Sharma says. Such a split could be devastating for the tiger population, he says.

Laura Sanders

Laura Sanders is the neuroscience writer. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Southern California.

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