Population genomics of a predatory mammal reveals patterns of decline and impacts of exposure to toxic toads

Brenton von Takach, Louis Ranjard, Christopher P. Burridge, Skye F. Cameron, Teigan Cremona, Mark D.B. Eldridge, Diana O. Fisher, Stephen Frankenberg, Brydie M. Hill, Rosemary Hohnen, Chris J. Jolly, Ella Kelly, Anna J. MacDonald, Adnan Moussalli, Kym Ottewell, Ben L. Phillips, Ian J. Radford, Peter B.S. Spencer, Gavin J. Trewella, Linette S. UmbrelloSam C. Banks

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Mammal declines across northern Australia are one of the major biodiversity loss events occurring globally. There has been no regional assessment of the implications of these species declines for genomic diversity. To address this, we conducted a species-wide assessment of genomic diversity in the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), an Endangered marsupial carnivore. We used next generation sequencing methods to genotype 10,191 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 352 individuals from across a 3220-km length of the continent, investigating patterns of population genomic structure and diversity, and identifying loci showing signals of putative selection. We found strong heterogeneity in the distribution of genomic diversity across the continent, characterized by (i) biogeographical barriers driving hierarchical population structure through long-term isolation, and (ii) severe reductions in diversity resulting from population declines, exacerbated by the spread of introduced toxic cane toads (Rhinella marina). These results warn of a large ongoing loss of genomic diversity and associated adaptive capacity as mammals decline across northern Australia. Encouragingly, populations of the northern quoll established on toad-free islands by translocations appear to have maintained most of the initial genomic diversity after 16 years. By mapping patterns of genomic diversity within and among populations, and investigating these patterns in the context of population declines, we can provide conservation managers with data critical to informed decision-making. This includes the identification of populations that are candidates for genetic management, the importance of remnant island and insurance/translocated populations for the conservation of genetic diversity, and the characterization of putative evolutionarily significant units.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5468-5486
Number of pages19
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number21
Early online dateSept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


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