Conservation managers strive to prevent the extinction of endangered species and to restore the species’ roles as functional parts of natural ecosystems. A critical goal of recovery programmes is to ensure endangered species retain sufficient genetic diversity to adapt to environmental change. Where recovery programmes use captive management to recover wild populations, selection of appropriate breeding pairs is vital, as unique genetic diversity may be held in only a few, easily lost, individuals. Current selection methods rely on robust pedigrees that are almost never available, or genetic-based measures of relatedness that are inadequate.
Globally, there are 400+ captive breeding for release programmes including over 20 in New Zealand. Our project is providing conservation managers with a forward-thinking, cost-effective and rapid conservation genomic approach that is enabling them to pair unrelated captive individuals with confidence. Applicable to a wide range of endangered species, our Proof of Concept is demonstrating the most efficient approach for making effective captive pairing decisions is to combine low coverage high-throughput sequencing with an innovative reference-guided approach to generate genomic-based measures of relatedness.
The establishment of a multi-stakeholder end-user working group consisting of leaders in the national and international conservation community, including relevant iwi and iwi trusts, is ensuring the project is responsive to diverse end-user needs. A commitment to retain the whakapapa of Aotearoa’s taonga species is at its core. This highly skilled group is enabling the adoption of our conservation genomic approach as best practice by the Department of Conservation and promoting its rapid uptake by equivalent agencies overseas. By fundamentally changing the way we manage our natural capital, New Zealand’s reputation as a world leader in evidence-based conservation management is being enhanced.