Researchers using genetic info to save fish from extinction

Researchers have used genetic information to save fish through captive breeding.

Nannoperca australis
The southern pygmy perch, Nannoperca australis

One of the most pressing deeds that our world increasingly needs to see is the protection of endangered species from extinction. Such is what scientists from Flinders University have accomplished: they succeeded in their endeavour to restore local populations of the native pygmy perch of Australia through DNA-based work.

The researchers put their heads together with other contributors to come up with a pioneering technique: using untapped genetic data to boost the success rate of captive breeding and reintroduction programs.

Led by Professor Luciano Beheregaray from Flinders Australian Research Council Research, the team helped protect the Yarra pygmy perch (Nannoperca obscura) and southern pygmy perch (N. australis), both freshwater organisms living in the lower Murray-Darling Basin, Australia.

Back in 2008, the two species became extinct in the wetlands of the lower Murray-Darling Basin (local extinction) as a consequence of losing their habitat following conditions of drought that had persisted for years on end. Thankfully, though, samples of the fish were taken before their local extinction, and these were made to breed in captivity. Analysing their DNA showed that their genetic diversity had not been completely reduced by the negative, human-caused effects, says one of the researchers, Dr Catherine Attard. This allows researchers to have unrelated individuals to cross to maintain the diversity in a population.

The same cannot be said for the southern pygmy perch though: their genetic diversity had decreased to unnatural levels a long time back.

The team, therefore, carried out a breeding program based on genetics to produce over 1,000 offspring for each of the two species. This progeny was then put into the lower Murray-Darling Basin in 2011. Since then, their aquatic habitats had been restored as the drought had ended.
Now, the pygmy perches are doing so well that they are reproducing in the wild.

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