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Genetic analysis reveals the costs of peri-urban development for the endangered grassland earless dragon

Abstract

Australia’s natural temperate grasslands have diminished to 0.5 % of their former area since European settlement and, as a consequence, are highly fragmented and modified. Many vertebrate species that live in temperate grasslands are habitat specialists and therefore are at risk of decline through habitat loss and fragmentation. The grassland earless dragon (Tympanocryptis pinguicolla) is one such species. Once widespread, T. pinguicolla is now restricted to two general locations; the first is near Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory (including some adjacent land near Queanbeyan), and the second is the Monaro Tablelands in New South Wales. Here, we use microsatellite DNA data collected from the largest remaining populations near Canberra to examine genetic structure in this species in the context of the rapidly expanding urban landscape in this region. Our study revealed that, despite separation by only relatively small distances (largest distance ~13 km), the T. pinguicolla populations are highly genetically structured with little admixture. Our analyses also revealed that the population with the largest census size, but which has recently crashed in population size, exhibited little detectable gene flow to other populations and is essentially isolated. Our data indicate that significant barriers to dispersal exist among the remaining T. pinguicolla populations and that management of this species cannot rely on natural dispersal to bolster declining populations. Many different agencies and landholders are responsible for the protection of these remnant populations and a co-ordinated effort is required to provide reasonable confidence that the species will persist.

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Acknowledgments

We thank all the landholders for access to their property. Particularly to Mr. C. Campbell and L. Margules, who provided information on the history of grassland management at the study sites. We also thank Murray Evans and a large number of volunteers for the collection of the tissue samples and Alica Tschierschke for producing Fig. 2. This project was funded jointly by an ARC Grant LP0776987 to SS and WO with industry partners the Canberra International Airport and by funds from the Environment ACT. All aspects of this study were conducted under the University of Canberra’s Animal Ethics permit numbers CEAE 05/11, CEAE 07–05 and CEAE 08–18. Trapping was conducted under Environment ACT licenses to trap and release LT2006241, LT2008290, LT2009383 LT2010454 and a Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts take and release permit E2008–0023.

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Correspondence to Marion Hoehn.

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Hoehn, M., Dimond, W., Osborne, W. et al. Genetic analysis reveals the costs of peri-urban development for the endangered grassland earless dragon. Conserv Genet 14, 1269–1278 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-013-0515-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-013-0515-6

Keywords

  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Native temperate grasslands
  • Grassland earless dragon
  • Microsatellites
  • Spatial autocorrelation
  • Recent effective population size