Genetics, biotechnology and population management of over-abundant mammalian wildlife in Australasia
Desmond W. Cooper and Catherine A. Herbert
Australasian Fauna Laboratories, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia
Wildlife management involves regulation of population numbers of wild vertebrate species. In some cases there are too many animals and in others there are too few. Genetic issues arise in both instances. The historical and genetic evidence for the number of mammals that were in the founder populations of successful colonizing species in Australia and New Zealand is reviewed here. Small numbers have often given rise to large populations, despite the concomitant loss of genetic variability. Restriction of the number of over-abundant and pest species by either physical or chemical methods frequently constitutes very strong artiﬁcial selection, which leads to rapid genetic change; an example of major importance in the two countries is sodium monoﬂuoroacetate (compound 1080). Pathogenic agents, surgical sterilization, hormonal contraceptives and translocation have all been used with varying degrees of success. The strengths and weaknesses of these techniques are assessed. A method that has received much attention is immunocontraception. We argue that this attempt to use the animals’ own immune system to modulate reproduction is incompatible with the basic biological function of protection against infectious disease. Immune function genes are highly variable in vertebrates, and so often genetic change in the population subjected to immunocontraception is likely to be even more rapid than is the case with lethal agents. Selection for failure to respond to the immunocontraceptive will occur, and will change immune function in general. Poor scientiﬁc description of ecosystem complexity makes it difﬁcult to predict the consequences of immunocontraception on wildlife populations.