Researchers build DNA population census of wombats

Mar 11, 2014 by Robyn Mills

The endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat has been losing a small piece of its hair - all in the name of research, monitoring and conservation of its small population.

University of Adelaide PhD student Lauren White has spent the past six months working on a population census of the wombat with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the University's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD).

She spent two weeks in Queensland collecting hair samples by stringing double-sided sticky tape across the burrow entrances.

"As the wombats enter or exit their burrows overnight they get a small wax and hair is stuck to the tape," says Lauren. "We collected 1,260 hairs and every single one was carefully placed in its own very small tube and transported back to ACAD for DNA analysis."

Located only in Epping Forest National Park in North Queensland, the northern hairy-nosed wombat's numbers dropped to as low as 40 in the 1980s. At the past census in 2010, estimates had increased to 163.

Counting the population, however, is not a simple process because of the wombats' nocturnal nature and largely subterranean lifestyle.

During her Honours year in 2013 Lauren, with supervision by ACAD Deputy Director Associate Professor Jeremy Austin, found nine new genetic markers for the northern hairy-nosed wombat. They then developed a faster and simpler DNA test to be able to identify individuals.

"By collecting hairs over several nights and identifying how many different wombats they belong to and how often they've been 'captured', we can then estimate the proportion of the population that's likely to have been sampled. This allows a good estimate of the total population size.

"Hopefully, this next will continue to show that the northern hairy-nosed wombat is growing, giving the green light for more reintroductions and recovery action.

"Using DNA analyses as part of the conservation effort, we hope to help make sure the are here to stay."

Explore further: Captive hairy marron populace to be bolstered

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Balding disease killing Australia's wombats

May 15, 2012

A mystery liver disease thought to be caused by introduced weeds is causing hairy-nosed wombats in southern Australia to go bald and die, researchers said Tuesday.

New DNA test on roo poo identifies species

Jun 06, 2013

(Phys.org) —University of Adelaide researchers have developed a simple and cost-effective DNA test to identify kangaroo species from their droppings which will boost the ability to manage and conserve kangaroo populations.

Captive hairy marron populace to be bolstered

Jan 27, 2014

Researchers studying the hairy marron (cherax tenuimanus) hope to establish a new self-sustaining population of the critically endangered animal by the middle of the year, amid fears it could be extinct in ...

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey sighting in Vietnam

May 21, 2012

As one of the most endangered primate species in the world, sightings of the elusive Tonkin snub-nosed monkey are rare. It’s no wonder a recent sighting of a group in Vietnam has proved cause for celebration.

Overcoming crocodile breeding hazards with AI

Aug 28, 2012

The world's first artificial insemination of crocodiles is one step closer thanks to a novel project between The University of Queensland (UQ) and a central Queensland farmer.

Recommended for you

Wolves susceptible to yawn contagion

Aug 27, 2014

Wolves may be susceptible to yawn contagion, according to a study published August 27, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Teresa Romero from The University of Tokyo, Japan, and colleagues.

User comments : 0