Small population size and extremely low levels of genetic diversity in island populations of the platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus

Elise Furlan, J Stoklosa, J Griffiths, Nick Gust, R Ellis, R. M. Huggins, A. R. Weeks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Citations (Scopus)
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Genetic diversity generally underpins population resilience and persistence. Reductions in population size and absence of gene flow can lead to reductions in genetic diversity, reproductive fitness, and a limited ability to adapt to environmental change increasing the risk of extinction. Island populations are typically small and isolated, and as a result, inbreeding and reduced genetic diversity elevate their extinction risk. Two island populations of the platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus, exist; a naturally occurring population on King Island in Bass Strait and a recently introduced population on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia. Here we assessed the genetic diversity within these two island populations and contrasted these patterns with genetic diversity estimates in areas from which the populations are likely to have been founded. On Kangaroo Island, we also modeled live capture data to determine estimates of population size. Levels of genetic diversity in King Island platypuses are perilously low, with eight of 13 microsatellite loci fixed, likely reflecting their small population size and prolonged isolation. Estimates of heterozygosity detected by microsatellites (HE =0.032) are among the lowest level of genetic diversity recorded by thismethod in a naturally outbreeding vertebrate population. In contrast, estimates of genetic diversity on Kangaroo Island are somewhat higher. However, estimates of small population size and the limited founders combined with genetic isolation are likely to lead to further losses of genetic diversity through time for the Kangaroo Island platypus population. Implications for the future of these and similarly isolated or genetically depauperate populations are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)844-857
Number of pages14
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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