Grasscutter (Thryonomys swinderianus) is a large rodent distributed across sub-Saharan Africa that is highly valued as a source of protein. There has been little effort to evaluate the genetic structure of grasscutters despite long-term harvesting pressure and over 40 years of grasscutter domestication in West Africa. Our objectives were to quantify the genetic structure of wild grasscutters, and to compare genetic variation from wild samples to those from various farmed samples within south-western Nigeria. We genotyped 145 wild and 88 domesticated individuals at 11 microsatellite loci and present results quantifying regional genetic structuring and the relative patterns of diversity among wild and domesticated grasscutter populations. Our data reflect high differentiation between wild and domesticated grasscutters, and significantly greater allelic richness and gene diversity in the former. Despite this, domesticated populations appear to have similar levels of observed heterozygosity and comparable levels of differentiation among domesticated samples relative to wild samples. This may be the result of high turnover within captive colonies, or frequent infusion of new animals. More detailed molecular and quantitative genetic studies are recommended on this species to be able to understand their natural variation, degree of connectivity and to improve strategies for domestication.
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Vol. 52 • No. 3