Environment DNA test burrow into wombats’ family history

DNA test burrow into wombats’ family history

Two things we all know about wombats: they’re cute and they do square poos.

But while genetic ancestry tests have become all the rage for people wanting to delve into their family history, they haven’t extended to our furry friends.

Until now.

Researchers at the University of Tasmania have done similar DNA tests on common wombats (Vombatus ursinus) to piece together their family tree for the first time and help conserve their numbers.

The tests showed that Maria Island and Bass Strait Island wombats are in fact from the same family. That means that some of the abundant wombats on Maria Island could be moved to replenish the Bass Strait Islands where they have been largely wiped out, says team member Dr Scott Carver.

The mainland and Tasmanian populations were revealed to be two separate subspecies. Knowing that there are three genetically-distinct wombat populations in south-east Australia means that conservationists could consider mixing them in the future if any become too inbred, the researchers say.

“If fitness is low, there are potential benefits through the incorporation of genetic variation from other populations,” they write.

The findings are key for preventing further wombat declines, the researchers say. The population in mainland Australia has already halved, and four of the five Bass Strait Islands that once had wombats no longer have any at all.

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