With only 18 museum specimens in the world, no genetic data, and only one 64-year old ambiguous record from the country of Djibouti, it’s no wonder we know little to nothing about the Ethiopian or Abyssinian Genet in the US, or elsewhere for that matter.
By Adam Ferguson
The diminutive and seldom seen Ethiopian genet (Genetta abyssinica) is a small, mammalian carnivore restricted to the Horn of Africa with only 20 known records from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Originally thought to be a desert adapted species, recent observations from the Ethiopian highlands indicate that although restricted in range, this species is more universal in its habitat use than originally thought.
In February 2016 a collaborative research group led by members of Environment and Sustainable Development Ministry of Housing, Urban Planning and Environment, Djibouti Nature (http://djiboutinature.org/) and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History headed to the remote but ecologically important Forêt du Day to conduct a vertebrate biodiversity survey. With only four nights to survey and a limited number of traps, the research team was delighted to discover that on 18 February 2016 they had captured the first Ethiopian genet recorded from Djibouti in over 60 years!
Touting its characteristic features, a hairless sole on the hindfoot, spots that merge to form lateral stripes, and large pale bands on the tail, there was no doubt that this individual was truly an Ethiopian genet. However, the authors knew there was no existing genetic data for this species and thus were anxious to sequence its DNA to see where it fit within the evolutionary history of Genetta (Carnivora: Viverridae).
Genets represent a uniquely African lineage of small carnivores, with 14-17 species currently recognized across the continent, whose relationships have been well-characterized using morphology and molecular data, with the exception of G. abyssinica.
Back in the lab, the authors whose article was recently published in Mammalia, sequenced the entire mitochondrial genome of this individual, yielding only the second complete mitogenome in existence for any genet. Using a subset of genetic markers, including the commonly employed cytochrome-b gene, the authors set about generating an evolutionary tree to see which branch G. abyssinica inhabited. Although not all trees yielded unequivocal results, the authors hypothesized that G. abyssinica was sister to all other living genets, a pattern which differed from that based on morphological characters alone.
This new record generated the first known DNA sequences for this little-known small carnivore and further highlights the ecological importance of the Forêt du Day ecosystem in protecting unique flora and fauna of the Horn of Africa. For more information on the Forêt du Day ecosystem and Djibouti’s amazing wildlife please visit the Djibouti Nature’s website: http://djiboutinature.org/
Read the Free Access original article here
Adam W. Ferguson, Houssein R. Roble, Molly M. McDonough: Noteworthy record of the Ethiopian genet, Genetta abyssinica, (Carnivora, Viverridae) from Djibouti informs its phylogenetic position within Genetta. 10.07.2018