By Sara Andreotti, Stellenbosch University | 29 November 2015
Despite international protection, great white sharks face several threats. These include reduction of their food supply, pollution, baited hooks and lethal gill nets used as beach protection measures.
The cryptic nature of white sharks makes them challenging to study. And it is difficult to protect a species we don’t know much about. But new research has now added another piece of the puzzle towards understanding these creatures.
Research on the DNA of white sharks around the South African coastline shows that the population has extremely low geneticdiversity. This finding holds serious implications for their survival and more analysis is being done to try and understand this unexpected outcome and predict its consequences for the future of the species.
What genetic diversity tells us
Genetic diversity is an important indicator of the health status of a population in the wild: the higher the diversity, the easier it is for a species to survive diseases or unexpected changes in the environment. Among genetically different individuals there will always be those able to adapt and contribute to the next generation.
A different scenario emerges when all the individuals share the same genetic information since depression by inbreeding and the loss of ability to adjust to environmental changes can quickly lead a species to extinction.
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