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

2 Citations (Scopus)


Managed breeding programs are an important tool in marsupial conservation efforts but may be costly and have adverse genetic effects in 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 used genetic and economic models to examine whether supplementing hypothetical captive populations of dibblers (Parantechinus apicalis) and numbats (Myrmecobius fasciatus) with biobanked founder sperm through ARTs could reduce inbreeding, lower required colony sizes, and reduce program costs. We also asked practitioners of the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) captive recovery program to complete a questionnaire to examine the resources and model species research pathways required to develop an optimized biobanking protocol in the black-footed ferret. We used data from this questionnaire to devise similar costed research pathways for Australian marsupials. With biobanking and assisted reproduction, inbreeding was reduced on average by between 80% and 98%, colony sizes were on average 99% smaller, and program costs were 69- to 83-fold lower. Integrating biobanking made long-standing captive genetic retention targets possible in marsupials (90% source population heterozygosity for a minimum of 100 years) within realistic cost frameworks. Lessons from the use of biobanking technology that contributed to the recovery of the black-footed ferret include the importance of adequate research funding (US$4.2 million), extensive partnerships that provide access to facilities and equipment, colony animals, appropriate research model species, and professional and technical staff required to address knowledge gaps to deliver an optimized biobanking protocol. Applied research investment of A$133 million across marsupial research pathways could deliver biobanking protocols for 15 of Australia's most at-risk marsupial species and 7 model species. The technical expertise and ex situ facilities exist to emulate the success of the black-footed ferret recovery program in threatened marsupials using these research pathways. All that is needed now for significant and cost-effective conservation gains is greater investment by policy makers in marsupial ARTs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14010
Pages (from-to)1-34
Number of pages34
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
Early online date30 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


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