The Iberian lynx is subject to an intense monitoring and active management program that includes an ex-situ conservation program, translocations of individuals and a reintroduction program, whose first releases were performed in late 2009.The scientific monitoring of these actions entails a complete medical or post-mortem analysis and the collection of samples for veterinary, physiological, and reproductive analysis for all animals eventually captured or found dead, which are studied by specialists in each area.
This endeavour is generating a wealth of information on the biology of the species, including sanitary, ethological, reproductive, demographic and genetic aspects, at both the level of populations and individuals.
The captive population also provides a well-known genealogy that allows genetic analyses based on pedigree. Finally, the Iberian lynx is relatively closely related to the domestic cat, estimated at 1.2% divergence in nuclear sequences and 7.5 million years since they last shared a common ancestor.
The domestic cat has been proposed as a model for human disease research and for studies of behaviour, physiology, neurobiology and domestication, among others. Several genomic resources are available for this species, including a high-resolution physical map of the genome and a 2x coverage genome sequence draft, which is now being upgraded to 7x coverage.
All these circumstances make of the Iberian lynx a unique model on which to explore the use of genomic approaches in conservation, in general, and to investigate a central issue in conservation genetics: i.e. the effects of decline on non-neutral genetic diversity and its implications for individual viability and population dynamics. The Lynx Genomics project, headed by the Estación Biológica de Doñana, aims to provide a first and significant step in that direction by generating the basic information and tools needed for that task.
The genetic changes occurring in endangered species might increase their extinction probabilities. Low population sizes leads to reduced genetic diversity and increased inbreeding. A low of genetic diversity means a reduced ability to adapt to environmental changes. Inbreeding is often associated to reduced reproduction and survival. Genetic factors might thus play an important role in species extinction -and therefore in their conservation.
Molecular genetic markers are often used to assess the genetic status of endangered species and populations. This information is then used to elaborate conservation plans designed to maximize genetic diversity and minimize inbreeding.