Estimating population size of endangered brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata) colonies using faecal DNA

Authors

  • M. P. PIGGOTT,

    Corresponding author
    1. Australian Centre for Biodiversity, Analysis, Policy and Management, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia,
      Current address: Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, New South Wales 2109, Australia. Fax: +61 29850 9395; E-mail: mpiggott@bio.mq.edu.au
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  • S. C. BANKS,

    Corresponding author
    1. Australian Centre for Biodiversity, Analysis, Policy and Management, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia,
      Current address: Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, New South Wales 2109, Australia. Fax: +61 29850 9395; E-mail: mpiggott@bio.mq.edu.au
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  • N. STONE,

    1. Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 43, Blackheath, New South Wales 2785, Australia,
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  • C. BANFFY,

    1. Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 552, Katoomba, New South Wales 2788, Australia
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  • A. C. TAYLOR

    1. Australian Centre for Biodiversity, Analysis, Policy and Management, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia,
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Maxine P. Piggott, Current address: Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, New South Wales 2109, Australia. Fax: +61 29850 9395; E-mail: mpiggott@bio.mq.edu.au

Abstract

The brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata) is an endangered species in southeastern Australia and many of the remaining populations are declining. The steep rocky habitat and shy nature of the species make it difficult to obtain data on population parameters such as abundance and recruitment. Faecal pellet counts from scat plots are commonly used to monitor population trends but these are imprecise and difficult to relate to absolute population size. We conducted a noninvasive genetic sampling ‘mark–recapture’ study over a 2-year period to identify individuals from faecal DNA samples and estimate the population size of four brush-tailed rock-wallaby colonies located in Wollemi National Park, New South Wales. Scat plots in rock-wallaby colonies were used as sample collection points for this study. Two separate population estimates were carried out for three of the colonies to determine if we could detect recruitment and changes in population size. We determined that there was one large colony of an estimated 67 individuals (95% confidence interval: 55–91) and three smaller colonies. Monitoring of the smaller colonies also detected possible population size increases in all three. Our results indicate that faecal DNA analysis may be a promising method for estimating and monitoring population trends in this species particularly when used with a traditional field survey method.

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