Severe consequences of habitat fragmentation on genetic diversity of an endangered Australian freshwater fish: a call for assisted gene flow

Alexandra Pavlova, Luciano Beheregaray, Rhys Coleman, Dean Gilligan, Katherine Harrisson, Brett Ingram, Joanne Kearns, Annika Lamb, Mark Lintermans, Jarod Lyon, Thuy Nguyen, Minami Sasaki, Zeb Tonkin, Jian Yen, P Sunnucks

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    116 Citations (Scopus)


    Genetic diversity underpins the ability of populations to persist and adapt to environmental changes. Substantial empirical data show that genetic diversity rapidly deteriorates in small and isolated populations due to genetic drift, leading to reduction in adaptive potential and fitness and increase in inbreeding. Assisted gene flow (e.g. via translocations) can reverse these trends, but lack of data on fitness loss and fear of impairing population “uniqueness” often prevents managers from acting. Here, we use population genetic and riverscape genetic analyses and simulations to explore the consequences of extensive habitat loss and fragmentation on population genetic diversity and future population trajectories of an endangered Australian freshwater fish, Macquarie perch Macquaria australasica. Using guidelines to assess the risk of outbreeding depression under admixture, we develop recommendations for population management, identify populations requiring genetic rescue and/or genetic restoration and potential donor sources. We found that most remaining populations of Macquarie perch have low genetic diversity, and effective population sizes below the threshold required to retain adaptive potential. Our simulations showed that under management inaction, smaller populations of Macquarie perch will face inbreeding depression within a few decades, but regular small-scale translocations will rapidly rescue populations from inbreeding depression and increase adaptive potential through genetic restoration. Despite the lack of data on fitness loss, based on our genetic data for Macquarie perch populations, simulations and empirical results from other systems, we recommend regular and frequent translocations among remnant populations within catchments. These translocations will emulate the effect of historical gene flow and improve population persistence through decrease in demographic and genetic stochasticity. Increasing population genetic connectivity within each catchment will help to maintain large effective population sizes and maximize species adaptive potential. The approach proposed here could be readily applicable to genetic management of other threatened species to improve their adaptive potential.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)531-550
    Number of pages20
    JournalEvolutionary Applications
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


    • adaptive potential
    • effective population size
    • genetic rescue
    • genetic restoration
    • inbreeding depression
    • Macquarie perch Macquaria australasica
    • management
    • population persistence


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