Population structure of brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata) colonies inferred from analysis of faecal DNA


Maxine P. Piggott, Current address: Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, New South Wales 2109, Australia. Fax: +61 298509395; E-mail: mpiggott@bio.mq.edu.au


Genetic data obtained using faecal DNA were used to elucidate the population structure of four brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata) colonies located in Wollemi National Park, New South Wales. The results suggested that the four sampled colonies are genetically differentiated and do not form a panmictic unit. Based on assignment tests, approximately 5% of sampled individuals were inferred to be dispersers and both male and female migrants were detected. Multilocus spatial autocorrelation analyses provided evidence for increased philopatry among females compared to males within the largest colony in the valley. Females in close spatial proximity were more genetically similar than expected under a random distribution of females, and females separated by more than 400 m were less genetically similar than expected. In contrast, there was no evidence of a significant clustering of related males. This suggests that within-colony dispersal is male biased. We also investigated the best strategies for conserving genetic diversity in this population. All of the four sampled colonies were found to contain distinct components of the genetic diversity of the Wolgan Valley P. penicillata population and loss of any colony is likely to result in the loss of unique alleles. Conservation and management plans should take into account that these colonies represent genetically differentiated discrete subpopulations. This approach is also the best strategy for maintaining the genetic diversity of the populations in this valley.