Conservation Genetics

, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 1401–1410 | Cite as

Novel genetic variation in an isolated population of the nationally critical Haast tokoeka (Apteryx australis ‘Haast’) reveals extreme short-range structure within this cryptic and flightless bird

  • Daniel J. WhiteEmail author
  • Ana Ramón-Laca
  • Jacinda Amey
  • Hugh A. Robertson
Research Article


There are currently five recognised species of kiwi (Apteryx spp.), and possibly 11 distinct genetic lineages, all of which are threatened or near threatened. Currently, with only approximately 400 individuals left, the most endangered provenance is Haast tokoeka (Apteryx australis ‘Haast’), classified as ‘Nationally Critical’ (Robertson et al. 2017 in Conservation status of New Zealand birds, 2016. New Zealand Threat Classification Series 19. Department of Conservation, Wellington). Several decades ago, a population of tokoeka from the Upper Arawhata region of the Olivine ranges near Haast, New Zealand was discovered, separated from the Lower Arawhata population by the Arawhata River and up to 20 km distance. Here, we used 1283 basepairs from two mitochondrial loci (control region and cytochrome b) and 14 nuclear microsatellites to describe the genetic diversity of this discrete population. Compared to Lower Arawhata, mitochondrial diversity was greater in Upper Arawhata with three mtDNA haplotypes compared to two, despite a lower sample size, and a pairwise nucleotide diversity more than five times as high (π = 0.00082). No mtDNA haplotypes were shared between the two regions. Microsatellites revealed moderate inbreeding in Upper Arawhata (FIS = 0.102), lower diversity levels to Lower Arawhata, and indicated this population is closest to but distinct from Lower Arawhata tokoeka when compared to other recognised tokoeka provenances. The marker-specific disparity in diversity measurements in Upper Arawhata may reflect relatedness in the presence of female dispersal. The low mitochondrial diversity in Lower Arawhata may indicate an over-use of productive females in supplementation programs. The distribution of genetic variation across all tokoeka was consistent with an isolation-by-distance model, but this correlation may be disrupted by local and complete barriers to gene flow creating highly structured regional populations. In summary, we provide strong support for the classification of the Upper Arawhata tokoeka as a genetically distinct population, increasing the genetic variation within Haast tokoeka and providing a useful resource for on-going conservation management.


Apteryx australis ‘Haast’ mtDNA Microsatellites Novel genetic variation Gene flow barriers Conservation management 



This project was partially funded by Landcare Research Ltd., Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Research Programme C09 X609. Use of samples was granted through DOC Wildlife Authorisation 48661-FAU and after kind consent from the Ngai Tahu iwi. Special thanks to Gary Houliston and John Innes for support, and Rogan Colbourne and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 20 KB)
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Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 17 KB)
10592_2018_1109_MOESM3_ESM.docx (31 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (DOCX 31 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Landcare ResearchAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia
  3. 3.Department of ConservationHaastNew Zealand
  4. 4.Department of ConservationWellingtonNew Zealand

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