Wildlife crime continues to be one of the prominent black market activities, and is particularly concerning for parrot species. Australian parrots and cockatoos, in particular the red-tailed black cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) and the Major Mitchell cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri), are commonly found in the illegal pet trade in places like South East Asia. These two species are both variously listed under State and Federal conservation legislation, and yet little phylogenetic and phylogeographic information is available for these iconic cockatoos endemic to Australia.
The aim of this research is to establish the phylogeny and phylogeography of these two commonly traded cockatoo species and to develop a multifunctional suite of SNPs appropriate for wildlife forensic application based on whole genome sequencing, and single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers. SNPs are the most abundant genetic variants and have immense potential to provide accurate and extensive analyses. This project will involve using SNPs, whole genomes and cutting-edge analytical methods to obtain high-resolution estimates of species boundaries, effective population size, and genetic structure and diversity for both cockatoo species. Further, the current subspecies divisions within each of these two cockatoo species is largely based on morphology across their extensive Australian distribution. An extensive genetic analysis may demonstrate whether the currently recognised subspecies are accurate or whether some subspecies should in fact be elevated to separate species.
A subset of SNPs will be subsequently validated for wildlife forensic purposes, to conduct individualization, phylogeographic location, clutch ID and progeny testing. Being able to identify source populations will allow enforcement and compliance resources to be directed towards these at risk populations, thus mitigating this key threatening process as well as and potentially identifying smuggling route and individuals involved to improve prosecution outcomes.