Assessment of genetic diversity in the critically endangered Australian corroboree frogs, Pseudophryne corroboree and Pseudophryne pengilleyi, identifies four evolutionarily significant units for conservation


A/Prof. J. Scott Keogh, Fax: 61-2-6125-5573; E-mail:


The iconic and brightly coloured Australian northern corroboree frog, Pseudophryne pengilleyi, and the southern corroboree frog, Pseudophryne corroboree are critically endangered and may be extinct in the wild within 3 years. We have assembled samples that cover the current range of both species and applied hypervariable microsatellite markers and mitochondrial DNA sequences to assess the levels and patterns of genetic variation. The four loci used in the study were highly variable, the total number of alleles observed ranged from 13 to 30 and the average number of alleles per locus was 19. Expected heterozygosity of the four microsatellite loci across all populations was high and varied between 0.830 and 0.935. Bayesian clustering analyses in structure strongly supported four genetically distinct populations, which correspond exactly to the four main allopatric geographical regions in which the frogs are currently found. Individual analyses performed on the separate regions showed that breeding sites within these four regions could not be separated into distinct populations. Twelve mtND2 haplotypes were identified from 66 individuals from throughout the four geographical regions. A statistical parsimony network of mtDNA haplotypes shows two distinct groups, which correspond to the two species of corroboree frog, but with most of the haplotype diversity distributed in P. pengilleyi. These results demonstrate an unexpectedly high level of genetic diversity in both species. Our data have important implications for how the genetic diversity is managed in the future. The four evolutionarily significant units must be protected and maintained in captive breeding programmes for as long as it is possible to do.