Conservation Genetics

, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 1013–1020 | Cite as

Combining genetic data to identify relatedness among founders in a genetically depauperate parrot, the Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus)

  • Laura M. Bergner
  • Ian G. Jamieson
  • Bruce C. Robertson
Research Article


Small populations that have experienced a bottleneck often suffer from low genetic diversity and inbreeding, the effects of which may further threaten persistence over time. The iconic Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) is an endemic parrot of New Zealand, which was nearly driven to extinction by introduced predators and has subsequently experienced a severe bottleneck of 60 individuals. The population has since recovered to 125 individuals, but exhibits high hatching failure and other signs of inbreeding depression. Previous studies have indicated that contemporary Kakapo possess low genetic diversity, thus maintaining existing genetic diversity is high priority in Kakapo management. The future plans are to manage Kakapo using a pedigree-based system. An assumption common to most pedigrees is that founding individuals are unrelated. However, this is unlikely to be the case for Kakapo, as most founders originate from a small area of Stewart Island. Therefore the goal of this study was to examine the current Kakapo founders for potential relationships using several molecular techniques. Founders were genotyped at 25 microsatellites, which were used to generate relatedness estimates and assign relationships. 94 pedigree relationships were identified among founders comprising full sibling and half sibling pairs, as well as 110 with high pairwise relatedness values indicating likely close relationships. These relationships, along with mtDNA control region haplotypes, were combined to inform the pedigree. The improved pedigree will be used to manage the Kakapo population genetically through artificial insemination and planned matings.


Inbreeding Microsatellites mtDNA control region Pedigree Relatedness Sibship inference 



We are grateful to the New Zealand Department of Conservation for collecting samples and assisting with pedigree information, particularly R. Moorhouse and D. Eason. Microsatellite genotyping was done by BCR, F. Robertson and K. Ludwig. T. King also provided assistance with laboratory work. Funding for this research was provided by the Allan Wilson Centre (IGJ) and the Department of Conservation Kakapo Recovery Group (BCR). LMB was supported by a US Fulbright Graduate Student Award.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 92 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura M. Bergner
    • 1
  • Ian G. Jamieson
    • 1
  • Bruce C. Robertson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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