Wombat biodiversity

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Wombat biodiversity

Post  David on Sat Aug 29, 2009 4:13 am

Over the last two years we have been giving assistance to an UNSW PhD student Erin Roger collecting DNA samples of wombats for her research. She recently contacted us to say our samples showed an unusual degree of inbreeding. This surprises us as we are located adjacent to Blue Mountains National Park and the Jenolan/Hampton State Forest areas and would have assumed that there is little limiting movement of animals. After a lot of thought we have not been able to come up with a satisfactory explanation. As we care for and regularly release wombats and our property is run as a wombat and wildlife sanctuary we feel we could be in a unique situation for looking into this issue. We are also concerned about the future welfare of our wombats. We were wondering if anyone had come up with an affordable way to do this. We have been contacting some of the universities but their tracking systems are very expensive though we are hoping our inquiries may prompt a research project. We would be interested in any information about anything you have tried.
Any information you could provide would be appreciated.
Regards
David and Suzanne Alder

Response 1
That's pretty interesting, although not too good for the wombats. I'm slowly getting onto my project but unfortunately haven't taken it into the field yet (my youngest starts school next year so it will be all happening then).
My progress so far for monitoring wombats is trying to do it remotely as possible. I believe that for the released animals collars are necessary. Also a sample of similar aged wombats from the resident population to see if there are differences between the two groups. Unfortunately that is expensive and riddled with difficulties, but I think it's a must. For the rest of the population I've been having discussion with two people that will eventually be supervisors, Sam Banks from ANU and Murray Evans from ACT Parks. This is all theoretical but we are hoping that through a combination of hair identification and cameras we might be able to get a handle on individuals present. As you'd know though, these things may not go to plan.
It's interesting that your animals are not dispersing. Murray (who did the home range and energetics for his PhD) didn't identify dispersal in his project, but he is of the opinion that young tend to partially share the mothers home range and consequently don't move too far. Couple this with the work in SA where genetic data suggests female dispersal post weaning it may be the norm for juveniles to hang around. What weight do you release yours? There's a fierce disagreement between the wildlife Care group around here and Gayleen Parker about the time of release. Gayleen has also completed some pilot tracking at here place, but releasing her young at 16kg she has been able to use koala collars with a release mechanism. So the collars have been cheaper but she's only been able to follow them for 2-4weeks. During this time her animals are not moving far, or the couple that have wandered off a bit have come back. I don't know if that is because the area she is releasing into (like yours) has many hand reared animals there, and therefore perhaps not a natural situation, or if that's what they would do normally. The sights I have chosen have not had any hand reared animals released there, so hopefully we will be able to address that question.
What was the purpose of Erins DNA work? I've spoken to her about the roadkill stuff, was it concerning that? Perhaps it is worth throwing the net a little wider. I know the wombat group had concerns about habitat shift and remnant populations. There are many questions that could be addressed. We should have a chat at some stage if your interested. I have to head off to my sons book week parade today but any other time is fine. I've also got a heap of literature if your interested.
Cheers
Georgeanna

Response 2
Dr Andrea Taylor did her
PhD with me on the northern hairy-nosed wombat, and is still working on
wombat genetics at Monash University, and helping Erin.

There are two possible uses for the word "inbreeding".
(1) mating with relatives
(2) low variation in the whole population. This is an incorrect usage
of the term "inbreeding"; it would be better to say "low genetic
diversity". OF course it is possible for two members of an extremely
genetically diverse population to go ahead and mate with a relative.
For example, the human population in any area is very genetically
diverse, but regularly contain some individuals who mate with relatives,
showing that low diversity and who gets chosen as a mate are two
separate processes. There are plenty of other examples of this.

Unfortunately the second incorrect usage of the term inbreeding has
become widespread in conservation genetics, despite several really
prominent authors telling everyone to stop doing this. In the case of
the wombats on your property, I am not sure which meaning Erin intended,
so it is difficult to explain further without a bit more information on
what results she actually found.

Bill Sherwin
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