PROJECT TITLE: Dugong population structure, connectivity and movements along the developing central Queensland coastline
RESEARCHERS: Janet Lanyon, Jennifer Seddon & Alexandra McGowan (PhD candidate)
LOCATION: Gladstone to Townsville, QLD
The expansion of six major ports has been proposed for Queensland, including Gladstone and the recently approved Abbot Point (Bowen). This region is also home to important inshore seagrass habitat for dugongs, and includes seven significant Dugong Protection Areas, many close to these expanding industrial areas. The movement of dugong populations vary from irregular large-scale relocations to small, localised movements in response to food availability or local water temperature1,2,3.
This project aims to:
• examine population genetic structure of dugongs using dugong-specific nuclear DNA markers (microsatellites) developed by the researchers, in addition to mitochondrial DNA.
• increase our understanding of dugong populations (size, structure and connectivity) in a region of current and proposed coastal development through genetic population analysis.
• determine how the dugong populations of central Queensland are related to those in southern Queensland4.
This study will allow the researchers to identify key habitats and movement pathways, estimate effective population sizes (number of breeding adults in population) and migration rates, and thus establish reliable data regarding these populations before more coastal development occurs. This information will indicate which populations are separate and which connected and will help us to predict population-level impacts, particularly across areas marked for development and expansion of ports.
Nuclear DNA markers (microsatellites): a set of short repeated DNA sequences at a particular location on a chromosome, which vary in number in different individuals and so can be used for genetic fingerprinting.
Mitochondrial DNA: the DNA located in mitochondria, cellular organelles within eukaryotic cells that convert chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
1. Gales NJ, McCauley RD, Lanyon JM, Holley DK (2004) Change in abundance of dugongs in Shark Bay, Ningaloo and Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia: evidence for large scale migration. Wildl Res. 31: 283-290.
2. Lanyon J, Johns T, Sneath H (2005) Year round presence of dugongs in Pumicestone Passage, south-east Queensland, examined in relation to water temperature and seagrass distribution. Wildl Res. 32: 361-368.
3. Sheppard JK, Preen AR, Marsh H, Lawler IR, Whiting SD, Jones RE (2006) Movement heterogeneity of dugongs, Dugon dugon (Muller), over large spatial scales. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol. 334: 64–83.
4. Seddon JM, Ovenden JR, Sneath HL, Broderick D, Dudgeon CL, Lanyon JM (2014) Fine scale population structure of dugongs (Dugong dugon) implies low gene flow along the southern Queensland coastline. Biol. Conserv. 15: 1381-1392.