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Securing the Demographic and Genetic Future of Tuatara through Assisted Colonization

Authors

  • KIMBERLY A. MILLER,

    1. Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140, New Zealand
    2. School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Building 18, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia
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  • HILARY C. MILLER,

    1. Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140, New Zealand
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  • JENNIFER A. MOORE,

    1. Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140, New Zealand
    2. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, 13 Natural Resources Building, East Lansing, MI 48824, U.S.A.
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  • NICOLA J. MITCHELL,

    1. Centre for Evolutionary Biology, School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia, Crawley 6009, WA, Australia
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  • ALISON CREE,

    1. Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
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  • FRED W. ALLENDORF,

    1. Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, U.S.A.
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  • STEPHEN D. SARRE,

    1. Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia
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  • SUSAN N. KEALL,

    1. Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140, New Zealand
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  • NICOLA J. NELSON

    Corresponding author
    1. Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140, New Zealand
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Nicola J. Nelson, email nicola.nelson@vuw.ac.nz

Abstract

Abstract:  Climate change poses a particular threat to species with fragmented distributions and little or no capacity to migrate. Assisted colonization, moving species into regions where they have not previously occurred, aims to establish populations where they are expected to survive as climatic envelopes shift. However, adaptation to the source environment may affect whether species successfully establish in new regions. Assisted colonization has spurred debate among conservation biologists and ecologists over whether the potential benefits to the threatened species outweigh the potential disruption to recipient communities. In our opinion, the debate has been distracted by controversial examples, rather than cases where assisted colonization may be a viable strategy. We present a strategic plan for the assisted migration of tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus), an endemic New Zealand reptile. The plan includes use of extant populations as reference points for comparisons with assisted-colonization populations with respect to demography, phenotypic plasticity, and phenology; optimization of genetic variation; research to fill knowledge gaps; consideration of host and recipient communities; and inclusion of stakeholders in the planning stage. When strategically planned and monitored, assisted colonization could meet conservation and research goals and ultimately result in the establishment of long-term sustainable populations capable of persisting during rapid changes in climate.

Abstract

Resumen:  El cambio climático representa una amenaza particular para especies con distribución fragmentada y con poca o ninguna capacidad para migrar. La colonización asistida, mover especies hacia regiones donde no ocurrían previamente, trata de establecer poblaciones donde se espera que sobrevivan a medida que el clima cambia. Sin embargo, la adaptación al ambiente original puede afectar si la especie se establece exitosamente en regiones nuevas. La colonización asistida ha estimulado el debate entre biólogos de la conservación y ecólogos sobre si los beneficios potenciales para las especies amenazadas tienen más peso que la disrupción potencial a las comunidades receptoras. En nuestra opinión, el debate ha sido distraído por ejemplos controversiales, en lugar de casos en los que la colonización asistida puede ser una estrategia viable. Presentamos un plan estratégico para la migración asistida de la tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus), un reptil endémico de Nueva Zelanda. El plan incluye el uso de poblaciones existentes como referencia para comparaciones con poblaciones de colonización asistida con respecto a la demografía, plasticidad fenotípica y fenología; optimización de variación genética; investigación para llenar vacíos de conocimiento; consideración de comunidades huésped y recipientes; e inclusión de diversos actores en la etapa de planificación. Cuando es planeada y monitoreada estratégicamente, la colonización asistida podría alcanzar metas de conservación e investigación y finalmente resultar en el establecimiento de poblaciones sustentables a largo plazo, capaces de persistir durante cambios rápidos en el clima.

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