Don’t Judge a Cheetah by Its Spots: New Insights into the Genetics and Evolutionary History of African and Asiatic Cheetahs

The genetics of wild cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) populations has a special significance for me. In fact, it could be said that the population genetics of cheetahs changed my life.  I first learned about the low genetic variability in cheetahs in a darkened lecture hall at Iowa State University in 1988. I was so fascinated by what I learned in those lectures about genetics and its importance in conservation efforts that I eventually changed my major to Genetics.  “The Cheetah Papers” as a colleague calls them, were, and perhaps still are, common teaching tools for biology and genetics classes. And why not? The results were amazingly cool, if a bit disturbing. Imagine a population that, through a series of natural events over thousands of years, had become so genetically similar to one another as to be almost clonal.

Still, if science teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that there is always more to the story. Continue reading