Reduced MHC class II diversity in island compared to mainland populations of the black-footed rock-wallaby (Petrogale lateralis lateralis)
Many animal populations that are endangered in mainland areas exist in stable island populations, which have the potential to act as an "ark" in case of mainland population declines. Previous studies have found neutral genetic variation in such species to be up to an order of magnitude lower in island compared to mainland populations. If low genetic variation is prevalent across fitness-related loci, this would reduce the effectiveness of island populations as a source of individuals to supplement declining mainland populations or re-establish extinct mainland populations. One such species, the black-footed rock-wallaby (Petrogale lateralis lateralis), exists within fragmented mainland populations and small island populations off Western Australia. We examined sequence variation in this species within a fitness-related locus under positive selection, the MHC Class II DAB β1 locus. The mainland populations displayed greater levels of allelic diversity (4-7 alleles) than the island population, despite being small and isolated, and contained at least two DAB gene copies. The island population displayed low allelic diversity (2 alleles) and fewer alleles per individual in comparison to mainland populations, and probably possesses only one DAB gene copy. The patterns of DAB diversity suggested that the island population has a markedly lower level of genetic variation than the mainland populations, in concordance with results from microsatellites (genotyped in a previous study), but preserved unique alleles which were not found in mainland populations. Where possible, conservation actions should pool individuals from multiple populations, not only island populations, for translocation programs, and focus on preventing further declines in mainland populations.