Low Genetic Diversity and Inbreeding Depression in Queensland Koalas
J. M. Worthington wilmerAB, A. MelzerC, F. CarrickA and C. MoritzA
A Centre for Conservation Biology and Department of Zoology, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia.
B To whom all correspondence should be addressed.
C Department of Botany, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia.
The amount of genetic variation in two natural populations of Queensland koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus adustus) was assessed by analysis of mitochondrial DNA. Levels and any adverse effects of inbreeding (inbreeding depression) were estimated from the pedigree of a well-characterised captive colony. Genetic diversity of mitochondrial DNA was found to be exceedingly low both within and between the two populations, but the variation detected was found to be strongly structured geo- graphically. Inbreeding levels in the captive colony were moderate to high yet the only apparent evidence of inbreeding depression was a male-biased sex ratio. There was no evidence for decreased juvenile survivorship or growth rate with inbreeding. Because of the limited data it would be premature to conclude that koalas are relatively resistant to the effects of inbreeding. However, we suggest the hypothesis that koalas have a history of small population size, resulting in reduced susceptibility to inbreeding depression.