Recently published research into insurance populations
Recently authors Carolyn Hogg, Jamie A. Ivy, Carla Srb, Jocelyn Hockley, Caroline Lees, Chris Hibbard and Menna Jones undertook an analysis of the Insurance Population (IP) of Tasmanian devils. A report of the results has just been published: Influence of genetic provenance and birth origin on productivity of the Tasmanian devil insurance population.
Reproduction in the IP has been successful, with more than 600 disease-free devils now residing in quarantined captive facilities across Australia; however the authors make recommendations to further refine and improve management of the IP. These were based on investigations into potential relatedness among founding individuals (wild sourced animals harvested to form the Insurance Population), and the influence of factors such as genetic provenance (whether the devils forbears were from the east or west of Tasmania) and origin of birth, on the breeding success of females.
One of the key recommendations arising from the paper was that preference for future founders should be given to wild born females, such as female orphans. This paper shows how the approach to breeding devils in captivity can be used as a model for the establishment of future insurance programs for other species.
The abstract of the paper is reproduced below. To purchase the report in full visit http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10592-015-0754-9
An insurance population for the critically endangered Tasmanian devil was established in 2006. Due to successful captive breeding, the population has reached its carrying capacity of 600 devils and retains 99.95 % of founding gene diversity. Although reproduction has been quite successful, possible relatedness among founding individuals, influences of genetic provenance and pairing success on female productivity were evaluated to further refine insurance population management. Ten polymorphic microsatellite markers were used to assess the founders. Although the data were ultimately insufficient for determining specific founder relationships, a STRUCTURE analysis determined founders to be of eastern or western provenance. Western provenance animals had an observed heterozygosity of 0.38; while eastern provenance was 0.41. Allelic frequencies between the two provenances were similar. Although differences in pairing success of eastern and western provenance animals were noted, there was no difference in overall productivity (number of joeys/female). Cross-provenance pairings were not as successful as W–W but had similar productivity, and produced viable offspring. Birth origin (wild-born vs. zoo-born) had no influence on pairing success but wild-born females produce significantly more joeys/female. For zoo-born females, the number of joeys produced per female had a downward trend between respective generations in captivity. Current and future population managers should be aware of potential reductions in productivity across captive generations and adjust breeding recommendations accordingly. The ability to recruit founders from diseased females, along with a better understanding of the influence of genetic provenance and birth origin on productivity, has led to changes in acquisition of future founders for this insurance population.