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Ecology

DNA profiling of Queensland koalas reveals sufficient variability for individual identification and parentage determination

Cocciolone, RA & Timms, P 1992, Wildlife Research, vol. 19, pp. 279-287.

DNA profiling of captive and free-range groups of koalas in Queensland detected genetic variation and differentiated between individuals using restriction enzymes (Msp I and Bam HI) and M13 probe.  Specific DNA profiles were produced to identify individuals with an average genetic variation of 17%.  These DNA profiles can be used for exploring genetic relatedness and social structure in both captive and wild populations of koalas.

  The profiling system used here has previously been used with other species, and although the level of variation for koalas was comparatively low, it was sufficient to successfully determine genetic profiles unique to each individual tested.  Parentage between known family groups identified inherited DNA between parents and offspring and was determined based on 11 shared DNA bands between individuals.  To robustly test paternity this method could be applied to a larger sample size.

  Although three geographically distinct subspecies of koalas in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland exist, their genetic identity had not been previously resolved.  A comparison to the Victorian subspecies in earlier studies suggested a greater level of genetic variation in koalas from Queensland.  Low genetic variation across the species owing to historical population decline, inbreeding and habitat loss may be exacerbated in Victorian populations due to their establishment from a smaller pool of individuals after a genetic bottleneck.

  DNA profiling to identify individuals and genetic relationships between family groups can inform management decisions for koala conservation, particularly when considering captive breeding programs, translocation and sustaining disease-free populations in the wild.  Resolving the genetic identity and relationships between individual koalas provides important information applicable to a wide range of management options.

 

Summarised by Meredith Kraina

 

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