Genetics to Inform Management of Black-footed Rock Wallaby

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RESEARCH AREA
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This week’s featured research article has just been published in Conservation Genetics by University of Adelaide researchers and examines genetics to inform future management of captive and reintroduced populations of the black-footed rock wallaby in the APY Lands. The proportion of wild genetic diversity captured during the establishment phase of a captive colony has a lasting impact on the adaptive potential and hence likely persistence of reintroduced populations sourced from these colonies. This study demonstrates the importance of securing large founder groups for captive colonies to avoid population bottlenecks and to ensure that a high proportion of source variation is captured to minimise genetic diversity loss. The researchers recognise that this is not always possible when taking conservation action, but suggest where possible, genetic diversity should be fully assessed in the early stages of ex situ management decisions to enable refinement of founder choice, breeding protocols and release group selection. Limited dispersal in Petrogale means that reintroduced groups are unlikely to move and recolonise new areas very quickly. Isolating reintroduced groups from other known populations will remove the potential for gene flow and result in effective population sizes below that required to maintain adaptive potential. Based on the results, warru and other Petrogale reintroductions should aim to establish genetically diverse populations that are proximal to extant colonies and/or other reintroduced groups. This will allow reintroduced populations to experience natural dispersal and migration patterns thus increasing the chance of establishing viable, resilient populations with high adaptive potential that are able to persist into the future with minimal management. The researchers conclude that whilst the maintenance of genetic diversity and lack of significant inbreeding is encouraging for the adaptive potential and likely persistence of the APY Lands warru populations, periodic genetic monitoring should be conducted to determine whether gene flow at the present low rate will have long term impacts on the genetic diversity of each population. The article can be downloaded here (or email jennie.fluin@sa.gov.au for a copy).