In endangered species, where populations are small, inbreeding is a major threat to the sustainability of the species, possibly even hastening extinction. It is worrying that the methods currently used to measure inbreeding in threatened species have been largely untested.

Professor Evans’s group has reviewed the empirical literature on sperm motility in endangered and non-endangered mammal species, and found that endangered populations have impaired sperm quality compared with their non-endangered counterparts, and that a strong negative correlation exists between the level of inbreeding and sperm quality within endangered populations.

With the aid of funding from the Australian Research Council, they are working with Trinidadian guppies to further examine how inbreeding impacts ejaculate quality.

The ARC funded research is evaluating current methods for detecting inbreeding in natural populations, using Trinidadian guppies as a model system. This work, in collaboration with Dr Catherine Grueber (University of Sydney), Dr John Fitzpatrick (University of Manchester), Dr Alessandro Deviligi (University of Padova) and Professor Indar Ramnarine (University of the West Indies), focuses on a range of molecular indices typically used to estimate inbreeding and determines how these relate to individual fitness. The group then plan to determine whether the efficacy of these molecular inbreeding markers in predicting fitness is influenced by historical patterns of inbreeding in the focal populations.

They hope that the information obtained from their work will enable conservation managers to focus their efforts on restoring endangered populations from extinction with the aim of determining whether more accurate measures should be used to ensure inbreeding is managed effectively in conservation.

Collaborator/s

  • Professor Indar Ramnarine, University of the West Indies
  • Dr Clelia Gasparini and Dr Alessandro Devigili, University of Padova and UWA
  • Dr John Fitzpatrick, University of Manchester