Population genomics and conservation management of a declining tropical rodent

Date: 04, Mar, 2021
Author(s):   von Takach, B., Penton, C.E., Murphy, B.P., Radford, I.J., Davies, H.F., Hill. B.M., Banks, S.C.
Publisher: Heredity

Conservation management is improved by incorporating information about the spatial distribution of population genetic diversity into planning strategies. Northern Australia is the location of some of the world’s most severe ongoing declines of endemic mammal species, yet we have little genetic information from this regional mammal assemblage to inform a genetic perspective on conservation assessment and planning. We used next-generation sequencing data from remnant populations of the threatened brush-tailed rabbit-rat (Conilurus penicillatus) to compare patterns of genomic diversity and differentiation across the landscape and investigate standardised hierarchical genomic diversity metrics to better understand brush-tailed rabbit-rat population genomic structure. We found strong population structuring, with high levels of differentiation between populations (FST = 0.21–0.78). Two distinct genomic lineages between the Tiwi Islands and mainland are also present. Prioritisation analysis showed that one population in both lineages would need to be conserved to retain at least ~80% of alleles for the species. Analysis of standardised genomic diversity metrics showed that approximately half of the total diversity occurs among lineages (δ = 0.091 from grand total γ = 0.184). We suggest that a focus on conserving remnant island populations may not be appropriate for the preservation of species-level genomic diversity and adaptive potential, as these populations represent a small component of the total diversity and a narrow subset of the environmental conditions in which the species occurs. We also highlight the importance of considering both genomic and ecological differentiation between source and receiving populations when considering translocations for conservation purposes.