Invasive species can't cover their tracks: using microsatellites to assist management of starling (Sturnus vulgaris) populations in Western Australia

Authors

  • LEE ANN ROLLINS,

    1. Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological Earth and Environmental Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia,
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  • ANDREW P. WOOLNOUGH,

    1. Vertebrate Pest Research Section, Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, 100 Bougainvillea Avenue, Forrestfield, WA 6058, Australia,
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  • ALAN N. WILTON,

    1. School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia,
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  • RON SINCLAIR,

    1. Animal and Plant Control Group, Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation, GPO Box 2834, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia
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  • WILLIAM B. SHERWIN

    1. Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological Earth and Environmental Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia,
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Lee Ann Rollins, Fax: +61 293852198, E-mail: l.rollins@unsw.edu.au

Abstract

Invasive species are known to cause environmental and economic damage, requiring management by control agencies worldwide. These species often become well established in new environments long before their detection, resulting in a lack of knowledge regarding their history and dynamics. When new invasions are discovered, information regarding the source and pathway of the invasion, and the degree of connectivity with other populations can greatly benefit management strategies. Here we use invasive common starling (Sturnus vulgaris) populations from Australia to demonstrate that genetic techniques can provide this information to aid management, even when applied to highly vagile species over continental scales. Analysis of data from 11 microsatellites in 662 individuals sampled at 17 localities across their introduced range in Australia revealed four populations. One population consisted of all sampling sites from the expansion front in Western Australia, where control efforts are focused. Despite evidence of genetic exchange over both contemporary and historical timescales, gene flow is low between this population and all three more easterly populations. This suggests that localized control of starlings on the expansion front may be an achievable goal and the long-standing practice of targeting select proximal eastern source populations may be ineffective on its own. However, even with low levels of gene flow, successful control of starlings on the expansion front will require vigilance, and genetic monitoring of this population can provide essential information to managers. The techniques used here are broadly applicable to invasive populations worldwide.

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