Using genetics to inform conservation of Australia’s threatened species
Australia is one of the most biologically unique and diverse countries in the world. Our native species are integral to Indigenous culture and heritage, in addition to the broader Australian culture. These distinctive plants and animals are also essential in sustaining ecosystem services that support human health and wellbeing, and are critically important to Australia’s economy through industries such as tourism and agriculture.
Much of our unique biodiversity however is under threat with 1,774 species (480 animals; 1,294 plants) nationally listed as threatened under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. As a result of the devastating bushfires last summer, this number is expected to increase as the extent of the fires and their impact is fully realised.
To support the recovery of threatened species, conservation managers implement multiple diverse yet interconnected actions from feral animal and weed management, to habitat restoration and the establishment of captive populations for reintroduction purposes. Management decisions within these actions need to be informed by the latest available information, including and increasingly by genetic information. This is where the new Threatened Species Initiative comes in to play.
Funded by Bioplatforms Australia, the Threatened Species Initiative will create national infrastructure in the form of genomic data and analytical pipelines to support decision-making for biodiversity conservation. For example, conservation managers would be better able to select individuals for translocation that are genetically more adapted to threatening processes such as disease or climate change. By doing so, we greatly improve the resilience of the given threatened species population.
Bioplatforms Australia General Manager, Andrew Gilbert said. “This initiative has an immediate practical aspect. It will support the development of a genomics resource for Australian threatened species that is directly tuned to empower conservation managers and inform their work.” Bioplatforms Australia is a not for profit organisation that manages Commonwealth Government investment through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy in the domains of genomics, proteomics, metabolomics and bioinformatics.
“Reference genomes for up to 50 threatened Australian species will be generated and made publicly available to the scientific community through Amazon Web Services Open Data Sets Program, as well as a reduced set of genetic data for individuals of each species,” Dr Carolyn Hogg, Research Manager of the Australasian Wildlife Genomics Group at the University of Sydney said. “The conservation community will then be able to leverage this genomic data to tackle critical biological and conservation issues.”
Research results will be fast-tracked into management outcomes. A website and training materials developed through education partners in the conservation sector will provide skills training to industry stakeholders enabling them to integrate genetic data to assist in their population management decisions.
This project brings together genome biologists, population biologists, bioinformaticians, population geneticists and zoologists with conservation agencies. At the end of the project, the partners (and others) will be able to independently add individual samples to the datasets for the listed species and generate breeding/translocation recommendations themselves. The intent is to not only better inform decisions on how we manage the genetic diversity in our most threatened species, but provide tools for decision making and incorporating both neutral and functional genetic diversity into management.
“We will be pioneering the use of genomic information to support threatened species recovery management for those at risk from a number of threatening processes,” Gilbert said. “This project will be an exemplar of how academia, government and industry can work together in the conservation arena and will build scale and focus in collaborative adaptive conservation management.”
Details on the Bioplatforms’ Threatened Species Initiative can be found on the project page and data will be made publicly available through the Bioplatforms data portal.
Science Lead, Dr Carolyn Hogg, firstname.lastname@example.org
General Manager – Scientific Programs, Bioplatforms Australia, Sarah Richmond, email@example.com
Chief Executive, Bioplatforms Australia, Andrew Gilbert, firstname.lastname@example.org