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Fences and other structures hinder the migration of wildebeest

Mass migrations of wildebeest There have been many casualties in recent years due to man-built fences, roads and cities. Analysis of the genomes of these beautiful animals now shows that these barriers are likely to affect the genetic diversity of populations that cannot migrate.

Wildebeest, also known as wildebeest, are a type of antelope. There are two species: blue wildebeest, native to southern and eastern Africa, and black wildebeest, found in southern Africa.

Blue wildebeest are plentiful and migratory, traveling en masse in huge annual migrations. But black wildebeest are much less numerous; by the early 20th century, only a few hundred remained due to overhunting. They no longer migrate and have a much smaller range than the area they inhabited in the past, likely a result of both hunting and conservation efforts that restricted them to game reserves. Nevertheless, conservation efforts have increased their numbers in recent years.

The new study, published in Nature Communications, looked at the genomes of 121 blue and 22 black wildebeest. The analysis found that although the two species likely interbred during the late Pleistocene, between about 129,000 and 11,700 years ago, they have different genetic structures and are not now interbreeding in large numbers.

The analysis also compared the genes of blue wildebeest that migrate with those in regions where migration is blocked by human-built infrastructure. The migratory blue wildebeest had more genetic diversity, less inbreeding and signs of larger population sizes compared to non-migratory blue wildebeest.

“No one ever knew that (migration disruptions) affected the genetics of wildebeest,” Rasmus Heller, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen’s biology department and one of the study’s lead authors, said in a press release. “But our results clearly show that wildebeest populations that no longer migrate, but have done so in the past, are simply less genetically healthy than those that continue to migrate. And this weakens their chances of long-term survival.”

To better protect wildebeest, the researchers write, migration routes must be maintained and wildlife managers must consider the potential pitfalls of building infrastructure in key migration areas such as the Serengeti-Mara. Other migratory ungulates – ungulates – could be affected in similar ways, they warn.