Tanzania is one of the few African countries with a diversity of wildlife species and a network of protected areas for these animals. The mapping of genetic variations in wild animals can help to improve wildlife management in the country.
A large number of tourists visit Tanzania in order to see African wild animals in their authentic environment. Researchers from many countries are also interested in studying the Tanzanian ecosystems. The greatest challenge facing the country is the sustainable conservation of biological diversity while at the same time promoting the development of infrastructure and welfare for the human populations living around the protected areas. Even though the number of wild species is seen to be on the decrease, especially large herbivores, Tanzania is striving to maintain its biological diversity. An important part of this work involves acquiring knowledge about the genetics of the species of wild animals in the region.
As a result of his doctoral research, Eblate Ernest Mjingo has developed genetic tools, so-called microsatellites, for use in genetic studies of wild herbivores in the Serengeti ecosystem. The microsatellites he developed were then used to map the genetic structure of two important species in the ecosystem. One was the African buffalo, with a view to uncovering the possible effects human activity has on its genetics; the other was the wildebeest, where Mjingo studied the genetic differentiation between migrating and non-migrating populations.
Mjingo's research reveals that populations of African buffalo living in the Serengeti ecosystem differ genetically. The population in Ngorongoro is different from the populations in the Serengeti National Park and the Maswa Game Reserve. This is because the habitats in the protected areas are separated from each other due to increased human activity. An increasing number of settlements and small-scale nomadic agriculture around Ngorongoro have created a barrier for the natural flow of genes throughout the Serengeti ecosystem. In order to conserve genetic diversity, it is important that the gene flow between the different areas is maintained.
The results of Mjingo's research also show that migrating and non-migrating populations of wildebeest in the Serengeti ecosystem are genetically structured. He indicates that the wildebeest populations in Serengeti have adapted genetically to local environmental conditions and that different sub-populations have developed different strategies for survival. His thesis suggests that non-migrating animals should be kept as separate populations as these can act as a buffer for the genetic diversity and maintain the development potential of the species within the ecosystem.
The results of Mjingo's PhD research project have provided us with new knowledge about genetic variation in large herbivores in Serengeti and with a platform for further research into the protection of wild ruminants, not only in Tanzania, but also in the whole sub-saharan region.
Eblate Ernest Mjingo defended his doctoral research on 7th December 2012 at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science with a thesis entitled "Genetic markers for wild herbivores conservation in the Serengeti Ecosystem, Tanzania." He carried out the project in Serengeti in Tanzania and in Norway.
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