The increased morbidity and mortality rates associated with Chlamydia are putting significant strain on koala populations, which already face the detrimental concerns associated with fragmentation; such as loss of genetic variation, inbreeding depression and reduced population fitness. My PhD research is a pilot study for how we can utilise the accessibility of captive koala populations to improve the population health, genetic variation and reproductive capacity of wild koala populations that are threatened by disease. This pilot study will determine the logical application, and establishment, of a Living Genome Resource Bank for aiding koala conservation.
The primary methodology for this study is utilising genetic analysis associated with SNP technology, which has not yet been applied to koala genetics. SNP data will not only determine population structure and dynamics, but also levels of inbreeding which have occurred as a result of disease-associated population decline and fragmentation. This data can also establish a heterozygosity fitness correlation between the genetic profile and reproductive capacity of a population, by using captive colonies as a model.
The secondary methodology for this study is the incorporation of assisted reproductive technologies into the LGRB to aid in genetic recovery and exchange. We have successfully implemented gamete recovery from deceased males in an effort to retain their genetic information. Parallel to this, previous efforts to extend chilled koala semen for the purpose of artificial insemination have recorded a 72hr success rate in producing pouch young. Part of this current study aims to extending this time to 35 days, to sync with the females oestrous cycle, so that regardless if a male is alive or not, his genetics can still be represented within the population.
Genetic identification, recovery and exchange can, and will, aid in improving population fitness and increasing population numbers, which are currently threatened by disease.