Date of Award

Spring 2015

Document Type

Honors Project

Degree Name



Biology & Earth Science


Dr. Simon Lawrance

First Committee Member

Dr. Jeffrey Lehman

Second Committee Member

Dr. Sarah Bouchard

Third Committee Member

Dr. Joan Rocks


African Penguin, Major Histocompatibility Complex, Genetic Diversity, MHC, Spheniscus demersus, Ex Situ Populations

Subject Categories

Biodiversity | Genetics | Population Biology | Zoology


As an endangered species, the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is at risk of becoming extinct in the wild due to destruction of their coastal habitat and reduction in food availability. The development of a genetically diverse and healthy captive population is important in helping to conserve the species. The goal of this project was to determine the genetic diversity of the class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) of a wild population of African penguins and compare it to the diversity of the captive population at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut that has previously been studied. We found that the wild population of African penguins that was sampled had similar levels of heterozygosity to the captive Mystic Aquarium penguins but the number of alleles found in the wild population was twice that of the captive population. Two undescribed alleles were also found in the wild population. These results have important implications in future management of this species as they indicate that practices need to be put into place to enhance the genetic variability of our captive populations to help ensure conservation of the species.