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Phylogeographic differentiation in the mitochondrial control region in the koala, Phascolarctos cinereus (Goldfuss 1817)

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Abstract

The koala, Phascolarctos cinereus, is a geographically widespread species endemic to Australia, with three currently recognized subspecies: P.c. adustus, P.c. cinereus, and P.c. victor. Intraspecific variation in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region was examined in over 200 animals from 16 representative populations throughout the species’ range. Eighteen different haplotypes were defined in the ≈ 860 bp mtDNA control region, as determined by heteroduplex analysis/temperature gradient gel electrophoresis (HDA/TGGE). Any single population typically possessed only one or two haplotypes yielding an average within-population haplotypic diversity of 0.180 ± 0.003, and nucleotide diversity of 0.16%. Overall, mtDNA control region sequence diversity between populations averaged 0.67%, and ranged from 0% to 1.56%. Nucleotide divergence between populations averaged 0.51%, and ranged from 0% to 1.53%. Neighbour-joining methods revealed limited phylogenetic distinction between geographically distant populations of koalas, and tentative support for a single evolutionarily significant unit (ESU). This is consistent with previous suggestions that the morphological differences formalized by subspecific taxonomy may be interpreted as clinal variation. Significant differentiation in mtDNA-haplotype frequencies between localities suggested that little gene flow currently exists among populations. When combined with microsatellite analysis, which has revealed substantial differentiation among koala populations, we conclude that the appropriate short-term management unit (MU) for koalas is the local population.

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