Genetic monitoring of ex-situ African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) populations in South Africa

Christiaan Labuschagne, Lisa Jane Nupen, Antoinette Kotze, J. Paul Grobler, Desire Dalton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) has suffered population declines and is listed in the IUCN Red List
as Endangered. The species is endemic to the coast of southern Africa, and breeding colonies are distributed
on the south-western coast of Africa. Currently, African Penguins are being kept in zoo and aquarium facilities
throughout South Africa. In this study, molecular genetic data based on 12 microsatellite markers from 1 119
African Penguin samples from four facilities were generated in order to determine the level of genetic variation,
population structure and differentiation, and effective population size to assist in the development of an effective
captive management plan. Expected heterozygosity ranged from 0.57 to 0.62, and allelic richness from 4.2 to
5.1. However, based on differences between first- and second-generation captive birds, we conclude that the
ex situ population is at risk of losing genetic variability in the future and management programmes should include
exchange of birds between captive facilities in order to induce gene flow and increase effective population
size. Adding individuals from in situ populations should also be considered in the future in cases where these
birds cannot be rehabilitated. Molecular genetic analyses of wild penguin populations should be carried out for
comparison, and to ascertain to what degree ‘in situ genetic diversity’ is represented among ex situ populations.
With regular resampling and analyses, the extent of the effect of processes such as genetic drift on diversity in the
ex situ penguin populations will become evident.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-90
JournalAfrican Zoology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2016


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