Modeling genetic benefits and financial costs of integrating biobanking into the conservation breeding of managed marsupials

Lachlan G Howell, Peter R Mawson, Pierre Comizzoli, Ryan R Witt, Richard Frankham, Simon Clulow, Justine K O'Brien, John Clulow, Paul Marinari, John C Rodger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Managed breeding programs are an important tool in marsupial conservation efforts but may face high economic costs and adverse genetic effects of unavoidably small captive colonies. Biobanking and assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) could help overcome these challenges, but further demonstration of their potential is required to improve uptake. We use genetic and economic models to show that if assisted reproduction in marsupials was available, supplementing captive-bred populations of dibblers (Parantechinus apicalis) and numbats (Myrmecobius fasciatus) with biobanked founder sperm could drastically reduce inbreeding, lower required colony sizes and greatly reduce program expenditure (between 69-fold and 83-fold cost reductions). Integrating biobanking could make long-standing captive genetic retention targets possible in marsupials (90% source population heterozygosity for a minimum of 100 years) within realistic cost frameworks. We draw lessons from the gold-standard use of biobanking technology that contributed to the recovery of the black-footed ferret (Mustella nigripes). We outline research model species and research capital required to address knowledge gaps and deliver an optimised biobanking protocol in the black-footed ferret sourced using a questionnaire to program practitioners. We use these data to propose similar research pathways for marsupials. The model research species, technical expertise and ex situ facilities already exist to emulate this success in threatened marsupials. All that is needed now for significant and cost-effective conservation gains, is greater investment by policymakers in applied marsupial ARTs. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-34
Number of pages34
JournalConservation Biology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Sep 2022


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