The Israeli population of Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) marks the Palearctic southern boundary of the species' distribution in the Levant. During the 20th century, the otter population in Israel experienced a dramatic decline due to anthropogenic habitat alterations. Currently, the otter population in Israel is estimated at about 100 individuals and defined as "Critically Endangered". The aim of this research was to characterize the Israeli otter population in order to determine its genetic diversity and fragmentation state for conservation purposes. Monitoring spraint sites during 2000-2011 along active and historic otter distribution regions indicate both stable and unstable otter subpopulations, mainly along the Jordan River. Four otter subpopulations, representing 57 individuals, were characterized by 12 microsatellites, previously used to characterize the European otter populations. The genetic results indicated three subpopulations correlating with three geographical regions: the Hula Valley, Sea of Galilee, and the Harod Valley. A moderate genetic diversity (Fst = 0.087-0.123) was found among the subpopulations, suggesting sporadic interactions between individuals from distinct geographical locations along the Jordan Rift Valley. The Israeli otter population was found to be very small, demographically remote and genetically distinct, harboring unique alleles absent from the studied European populations. Therefore, immediate conservation actions are recommended to prevent the deterioration of the isolated, unique, and critically endangered otter population in Israel.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was partially supported by a grant from the Israel Mammal Research Centre, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
- Israeli otter population
- conservation genetics