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Recent advances in conservation genetics of Spotted-tailed Quolls

Karen Firestone: Australasian Conservation Genetics Centre, Zoological Parks Board of NSW; School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales
Monica Ruibal: School of Botany and Zoology, Australian National University
Maria Cardoso: School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales

Email: kfirestone@unsw.edu.au

Abstract

Increasingly, molecular information is becoming recognised as an important facet of understanding the biology of, and enacting appropriate conservation management strategies for, many rare and threatened species. Quolls (Dasyurus spp.) are no exception, and specifically, Spotted-tailed Quolls are benefiting from this treatment. Furthermore there are many levels where genetic data may assist in understanding a species' needs and facilitating recovery plans - from broad-scale taxonomic questions to fine-scale social structure questions.

At the broad scale, phylogeographic studies of Spotted-tailed Quolls (D. maculatus) have highlighted the inconsistencies in designating species status within the genus, and indicate that there are distinct genetic divisions within this species - necessitating a revision, and perhaps description, of a new taxon.

At a finer scale, studies are currently underway to examine within- and between-population parameters of interest for management: e.g. levels of genetic diversity, isolation/gene flow, social structure and latrine use, and even paternity questions. Use of DNA from non-traditional sources, e.g. faecal samples, is opening a whole new area of study and allowing us to understand the significance of quoll latrines to a degree never before possible.

Data from faecal samples indicate that latrine use changes over time in concordance with the breeding cycle and that latrines may play an important role in communicating sexual status of females to males. It is hypothesised that latrines may facilitate male-male competition and female choice in Spotted-tailed Quolls. However, further testing is required to determine if this is the case.

A study examining paternity within spotted-tailed quoll litters is also providing new information on the social structure of this species. Current data indicate that, similar to other dasyurids, multiple paternity is found within this species and that there may often be more than two males siring a single litter.

Data from these studies highlight the need to understand the social organisation of Spotted-tailed Quolls and the role played by molecular studies in enacting effective management strategies for these populations.

Publications/References

Firestone, K., Elphinstone, M., Sherwin, B. and Houlden, B. (1999). Phylogeographical population structure of tiger quolls Dasyurus maculatus (Dasyuridae:Marsupialia), an endangered carnivorous marsupial. Molecular Ecology. 8,1613-1625.

Firestone, K. B. (1999).The Application of Molecular Genetics to the Conservation Management of Quolls, Dasyurus Species (Dasyuridae:Marsupialia). PhD Thesis. University of New South Wales, Sydney.

Firestone, K. B. (2000). Phylogenetic relationships among quolls revisited: the mtDNA control region as a useful tool. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 7,1-22.

Firestone, K. B., Sherwin, W.B., Houlden, B.H. and Geffen, E. (2000). Variability and differentiation of microsatellites in the genus Dasyurus and conservation implications for the large Australian carnivorous marsupials. Conservation Genetics 1,115-133.

Page last updated: 27 February 2011