Conservation prioritisation of genomic diversity to inform management of a declining mammal species

Brenton von Takach, Skye F. Cameron, Teigan Cremona, Mark D.B. Eldridge, Diana O. Fisher, Rosemary Hohnen, Chris J. Jolly, Ella Kelly, Ben L. Phillips, Ian J. Radford, Kate Rick, Peter B.S. Spencer, Gavin J. Trewella, Linette S. Umbrello, Sam C. Banks

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In our present age of extinction, conservation managers must use limited resources efficiently to conserve species and the genetic diversity within them. To conserve intraspecific variation, we must understand the geographic distribution of the variation and plan management actions that will cost-effectively maximise its retention. Here, we use a genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) dataset consisting of 12,962 loci and 384 individuals to inform conservation management of the Endangered northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), a carnivorous marsupial distributed patchily across northern Australia. Many northern quoll populations have declined or are currently declining, driven by the range-expanding cane toad (Rhinella marina). We (1) confirm population genomic structure, (2) investigate the contribution of each population to overall diversity, (3) conduct genomic prioritisation analyses at several spatial and hierarchical scales using popular conservation planning algorithms, and (4) investigate patterns of inbreeding. We find that the conservation of a single population, or even several populations, will not prevent the loss of substantial amounts of genomic variation and adaptive capacity. Rather, the conservation of at least eight populations from across the species distribution is necessary to retain 90 % of SNP alleles. We also show that more geographically isolated populations, such as those on islands, have very small contributions to overall diversity and show relatively high levels of inbreeding compared to mainland populations. Our study highlights the importance of conserving multiple genetically distinct populations to effectively conserve genetic diversity in species undergoing widespread declines, and demonstrates the importance of using multiple criteria to inform and prioritise conservation management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110467
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Conservation
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024

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