Development of 14 microsatellite markers in the Queensland koala (Phascolarctos cinereus adustus) using next generation sequencing technology.
ABSTRACT: We report the development of 14 new microsatellite markers in the Queensland koala (Phascolarctos cinereus adustus). Ten unrelated Queensland koala individuals from the San Diego Zoo, USA, were genotyped. The number of alleles per locus ranged from 2 to 7, with an average of 5.14 alleles per locus. Across all loci, the average observed and expected heterozygosity values were both 0.69. These polymorphic microsatellite loci will be useful for genetic studies relevant to the conservation of the koala, a species listed as vulnerable.
Project description:The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) suffered population declines and local extirpation due to hunting in the early 20th century, especially in southern Australia. Koalas were subsequently reintroduced to the Brisbane Ranges (BR) and Stony Rises (SR) by translocating individuals from a population on French Island descended from a small number of founders. To examine genetic diversity and north-south differentiation, we genotyped 13 microsatellite markers in 46 wild koalas from the BR and SR, and 27 Queensland koalas kept at the US zoos. The Queensland koalas displayed much higher heterozygosity (H O = 0.73) than the 2 southern Australian koala populations examined: H O = 0.49 in the BR, whereas H O = 0.41 in the SR. This is consistent with the historical accounts of bottlenecks and founder events affecting the southern populations and contrasts with reports of high genetic diversity in some southern populations. The 2 southern Australian koala populations were genetically similar (F ST = 0.018, P = 0.052). By contrast, northern and southern Australian koalas were highly differentiated (F ST = 0.27, P < 0.001), thereby suggesting that geographic structuring should be considered in the conservation management of koalas. Sequencing of 648bp of the mtDNA control region in Queensland koalas found 8 distinct haplotypes, one of which had not been previously detected among koalas. Queensland koalas displayed high mitochondrial haplotype diversity (H = 0.753) and nucleotide diversity (π = 0.0072), indicating along with the microsatellite data that North American zoos have maintained high levels of genetic diversity among their Queensland koalas.
Project description:Major histocompatibility complex class II (MHCII) genes code for proteins that bind and present antigenic peptides and trigger the adaptive immune response. We present a broad geographical study of MHCII DA ?1 (DAB) and DB ?1 (DBB) variants of the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus; n=191) from 12 populations across eastern Australia, with a total of 13 DAB and 7 DBB variants found. We identified greater MHCII variation and, possibly, additional gene copies in koala populations in the north (Queensland and New South Wales) relative to the south (Victoria), confirmed by STRUCTURE analyses and genetic differentiation using analysis of molecular variance. The higher MHCII diversity in the north relative to south could potentially be attributed to (i) significant founder effect in Victorian populations linked to historical translocation of bottlenecked koala populations and (ii) increased pathogen-driven balancing selection and/or local genetic drift in the north. Low MHCII genetic diversity in koalas from the south could reduce their potential response to disease, although the three DAB variants found in the south had substantial sequence divergence between variants. This study assessing MHCII diversity in the koala with historical translocations in some populations contributes to understanding the effects of population translocations on functional genetic diversity.
Project description:The Australian continent exhibits complex biogeographic patterns but studies of the impacts of Pleistocene climatic oscillation on the mesic environments of the Southern Hemisphere are limited. The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), one of Australia's most iconic species, was historically widely distributed throughout much of eastern Australia but currently represents a complex conservation challenge. To better understand the challenges to koala genetic health, we assessed the phylogeographic history of the koala. Variation in the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) Control Region (CR) was examined in 662 koalas sampled throughout their distribution. In addition, koala CR haplotypes accessioned to Genbank were evaluated and consolidated. A total of 53 unique CR haplotypes have been isolated from koalas to date (including 15 haplotypes novel to this study). The relationships among koala CR haplotypes were indicative of a single Evolutionary Significant Unit and do not support the recognition of subspecies, but were separated into four weakly differentiated lineages which correspond to three geographic clusters: a central lineage, a southern lineage and two northern lineages co-occurring north of Brisbane. The three geographic clusters were separated by known Pleistocene biogeographic barriers: the Brisbane River Valley and Clarence River Valley, although there was evidence of mixing amongst clusters. While there is evidence for historical connectivity, current koala populations exhibit greater structure, suggesting habitat fragmentation may have restricted female-mediated gene flow. Since mtDNA data informs conservation planning, we provide a summary of existing CR haplotypes, standardise nomenclature and make recommendations for future studies to harmonise existing datasets. This holistic approach is critical to ensuring management is effective and small scale local population studies can be integrated into a wider species context.
Project description:Chlamydial disease continues to be one of the main factors threatening the long-term survival of the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). Despite this, large epidemiological studies of chlamydial infection and disease in wild koala populations are lacking. A better understanding of the prevalence, transmission and pathogenesis is needed to improve control measures, such as the development of vaccines. We investigated the prevalence of Chlamydia pecorum infection and disease in 160 koalas in a peri-urban wild population in Queensland, Australia and found that 31% of koalas were Chlamydia PCR positive and 28% had clinically detectable chlamydial disease. Most infections were at the urogenital site (27%; both males and females) with only 14% at the ocular site. Interestingly, we found that 27% (4/15) of koalas considered to be sexually immature (9-13 months) were already infected with C. pecorum, suggesting that a significant percentage of animals are infected directly from their mother. Ocular infection levels were less prevalent with increasing age (8% in koalas older than 4 years), whereas the prevalence of urogenital tract infections remained high into older age (26% in koalas older than 4 years), suggesting that, after mother-to-young transmission, C. pecorum is predominantly a sexually transmitted infection. While 28% of koalas in this population had clinically detectable chlamydial disease (primarily urogenital tract disease), many PCR positive koalas had no detectable disease and importantly, not all diseased animals were PCR positive. We also observed higher chlamydial loads in koalas who were C. pecorum infected without clinical disease than in koalas who were C. pecorum infected with clinical disease. These results shed light on the potential mechanisms of transmission of C. pecorum in koalas and also guide future control measures, such as vaccination.
Project description:BACKGROUND: The koala, Phascolarctos cinereus, is a biologically unique and evolutionarily distinct Australian arboreal marsupial. The goal of this study was to sequence the transcriptome from several tissues of two geographically separate koalas, and to create the first comprehensive catalog of annotated transcripts for this species, enabling detailed analysis of the unique attributes of this threatened native marsupial, including infection by the koala retrovirus. RESULTS: RNA-Seq data was generated from a range of tissues from one male and one female koala and assembled de novo into transcripts using Velvet-Oases. Transcript abundance in each tissue was estimated. Transcripts were searched for likely protein-coding regions and a non-redundant set of 117,563 putative protein sequences was produced. In similarity searches there were 84,907 (72%) sequences that aligned to at least one sequence in the NCBI nr protein database. The best alignments were to sequences from other marsupials. After applying a reciprocal best hit requirement of koala sequences to those from tammar wallaby, Tasmanian devil and the gray short-tailed opossum, we estimate that our transcriptome dataset represents approximately 15,000 koala genes. The marsupial alignment information was used to look for potential gene duplications and we report evidence for copy number expansion of the alpha amylase gene, and of an aldehyde reductase gene.Koala retrovirus (KoRV) transcripts were detected in the transcriptomes. These were analysed in detail and the structure of the spliced envelope gene transcript was determined. There was appreciable sequence diversity within KoRV, with 233 sites in the KoRV genome showing small insertions/deletions or single nucleotide polymorphisms. Both koalas had sequences from the KoRV-A subtype, but the male koala transcriptome has, in addition, sequences more closely related to the KoRV-B subtype. This is the first report of a KoRV-B-like sequence in a wild population. CONCLUSIONS: This transcriptomic dataset is a useful resource for molecular genetic studies of the koala, for evolutionary genetic studies of marsupials, for validation and annotation of the koala genome sequence, and for investigation of koala retrovirus. Annotated transcripts can be browsed and queried at http://koalagenome.org.
Project description:Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus) are arboreal marsupials native to Australia that eat a specialized diet of almost exclusively eucalyptus leaves. Microbes in koala intestines are known to break down otherwise toxic compounds, such as tannins, in eucalyptus leaves. Infections by Chlamydia, obligate intracellular bacterial pathogens, are highly prevalent in koala populations. If animals with Chlamydia infections are received by wildlife hospitals, a range of antibiotics can be used to treat them. However, previous studies suggested that koalas can suffer adverse side effects during antibiotic treatment. This study aimed to use 16S rRNA gene sequences derived from koala feces to characterize the intestinal microbiome of koalas throughout antibiotic treatment and identify specific taxa associated with koala health after treatment. Although differences in the alpha diversity were observed in the intestinal flora between treated and untreated koalas and between koalas treated with different antibiotics, these differences were not statistically significant. The alpha diversity of microbial communities from koalas that lived through antibiotic treatment versus those who did not was significantly greater, however. Beta diversity analysis largely confirmed the latter observation, revealing that the overall communities were different between koalas on antibiotics that died versus those that survived or never received antibiotics. Using both machine learning and OTU (operational taxonomic unit) co-occurrence network analyses, we found that OTUs that are very closely related to Lonepinella koalarum, a known tannin degrader found by culture-based methods to be present in koala intestines, was correlated with a koala's health status. This is the first study to characterize the time course of effects of antibiotics on koala intestinal microbiomes. Our results suggest it may be useful to pursue alternative treatments for Chlamydia infections without the use of antibiotics or the development of Chlamydia-specific antimicrobial compounds that do not broadly affect microbial communities.
Project description:Species distribution models have great potential to efficiently guide management for threatened species, especially for those that are rare or cryptic. We used MaxEnt to develop a regional-scale model for the koala Phascolarctos cinereus at a resolution (250 m) that could be used to guide management. To ensure the model was fit for purpose, we placed emphasis on validating the model using independently-collected field data. We reduced substantial spatial clustering of records in coastal urban areas using a 2-km spatial filter and by modeling separately two subregions separated by the 500-m elevational contour. A bias file was prepared that accounted for variable survey effort. Frequency of wildfire, soil type, floristics and elevation had the highest relative contribution to the model, while a number of other variables made minor contributions. The model was effective in discriminating different habitat suitability classes when compared with koala records not used in modeling. We validated the MaxEnt model at 65 ground-truth sites using independent data on koala occupancy (acoustic sampling) and habitat quality (browse tree availability). Koala bellows (n = 276) were analyzed in an occupancy modeling framework, while site habitat quality was indexed based on browse trees. Field validation demonstrated a linear increase in koala occupancy with higher modeled habitat suitability at ground-truth sites. Similarly, a site habitat quality index at ground-truth sites was correlated positively with modeled habitat suitability. The MaxEnt model provided a better fit to estimated koala occupancy than the site-based habitat quality index, probably because many variables were considered simultaneously by the model rather than just browse species. The positive relationship of the model with both site occupancy and habitat quality indicates that the model is fit for application at relevant management scales. Field-validated models of similar resolution would assist in guiding management of conservation-dependent species.
Project description:Debilitating infectious diseases caused by Chlamydia are major contributors to the decline of Australia's iconic native marsupial species, the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). An understanding of koala chlamydial disease pathogenesis and the development of effective strategies to control infections continue to be hindered by an almost complete lack of species-specific immunological reagents. The cell-mediated immune response has been shown to play an influential role in the response to chlamydial infection in other hosts. The objective of this study, hence, was to provide preliminary data on the role of two key cytokines, pro-inflammatory tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF?) and anti-inflammatory interleukin 10 (IL10), in the koala Chlamydia pecorum response. Utilising sequence homology between the cytokine sequences obtained from several recently sequenced marsupial genomes, this report describes the first mRNA sequences of any koala cytokine and the development of koala specific TNF? and IL10 real-time PCR assays to measure the expression of these genes from koala samples. In preliminary studies comparing wild koalas with overt chlamydial disease, previous evidence of C. pecorum infection or no signs of C. pecorum infection, we revealed strong but variable expression of TNF? and IL10 in wild koalas with current signs of chlamydiosis. The description of these assays and the preliminary data on the cell-mediated immune response of koalas to chlamydial infection paves the way for future studies characterising the koala immune response to a range of its pathogens while providing reagents to assist with measuring the efficacy of ongoing attempts to develop a koala chlamydial vaccine.
Project description:The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is an arboreal marsupial that was historically widespread across eastern Australia until the end of the 19th century when it suffered a steep population decline. Hunting for the fur trade, habitat conversion, and disease contributed to a precipitous reduction in koala population size during the late 1800s and early 1900s. To examine the effects of these reductions in population size on koala genetic diversity, we sequenced part of the hypervariable region of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in koala museum specimens collected in the 19th and 20th centuries, hypothesizing that the historical samples would exhibit greater genetic diversity.The mtDNA haplotypes present in historical museum samples were identical to haplotypes found in modern koala populations, and no novel haplotypes were detected. Rarefaction analyses suggested that the mtDNA genetic diversity present in the museum samples was similar to that of modern koalas.Low mtDNA diversity may have been present in koala populations prior to recent population declines. When considering management strategies, low genetic diversity of the mtDNA hypervariable region may not indicate recent inbreeding or founder events but may reflect an older historical pattern for koalas.