Oral Presentation Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution Conference 2016

Effects of selection on genetic diversity in threatened species breeding programs: empirical data from Tasmanian devil (#152)

Catherine E Grueber 1 2 , Belinda Wright 1 , Katrina M Morris 1 3 , Carolyn J Hogg 1 4 , Katherine Belov 1
  1. School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Science, The University of Sydney, NSW, Australia
  2. San Diego Zoo Global, San Diego, USA
  3. Roslin Institute, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  4. Zoo and Aquarium Association, Sydney, Australia

Studies of laboratory populations and commercial species have shown that populations bred in captivity can experience massive genetic changes, relative to wild source populations, over surprisingly short timeframes. These changes may be attributable to several processes, including founder effects, genetic drift, and adaptation to captivity. The impact of captive breeding on the diversity of threatened species in conservation contexts remains vastly under-studied, but has serious implications for the large number of programs that aim to release captive-bred animals to the wild to support natural populations. The Tasmanian devil insurance population was established as a captive breeding program in 2006 in response to the decimating impact of devil facial tumour disease, which has caused severe population crashes in Tasmania since the disease emerged in 1996. The program now numbers over 700 devils, in more than 35 institutions across Australia, and presents an ideal opportunity for addressing questions relating to the impact of captive breeding in conservation. We measured the genetic effects of captive breeding using molecular genotyping of more than 300 SNPs across 22 candidate regions of interest (including immune genes) via a novel SNP typing assay developed by our group. We used parent-offspring trios to investigate changes in diversity by comparing observed offspring genotypes to expectations under neutral, Mendelian inheritance, using custom Monte Carlo (gene-drop) simulations. Preliminary findings revealed varying distributions of diversity across different genomic regions, with some regions indicating deficits of heterozygosity that deviate from neutral expectations. In this talk, I will outline the results that we found, how they may be interpreted in terms of possible selection pressures, and their implications for genetic management of not just devil, but all threatened species maintained in captivity.