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Inbreeding and disease avoidance in a free‐ranging koala population


Schultz, Anthony et al. (2020), Inbreeding and disease avoidance in a free‐ranging koala population, Dryad, Dataset,


Habitat destruction and fragmentation are increasing globally, forcing surviving species into small, isolated populations. Isolated populations typically experience heightened inbreeding risk, and associated inbreeding depression and population decline; although individuals in these populations may mitigate these risks through inbreeding avoidance strategies. For koalas, as dietary specialists already under threat in the northern parts of their range, increased habitat fragmentation and associated inbreeding costs are of great conservation concern. Koalas are known to display passive inbreeding avoidance through sex-biased dispersal, although population isolation will reduce dispersal pathways. We tested whether free-ranging koalas display active inbreeding avoidance behaviours. We used VHF tracking data, parentage reconstruction, and veterinary examination results to test whether female koalas make mate choices based on [1] relatedness, and [2] chlamydial disease in available mates. We found no evidence that female koalas based their mate choice on the relative relatedness of available mates. In fact, as the relatedness of potential mates increases, so did inbreeding events. We also found no evidence that female koalas based their mate choice on the chlamydial disease status of available mates. The absence of active inbreeding avoidance mechanisms in koalas is concerning from a conservation perspective, as small, isolated populations may be at even higher risk of inbreeding depression than expected. At-risk koala populations may require urgent conservation interventions to augment gene flow and reduce inbreeding risks. Similarly, if koalas are not avoiding mating with individuals with chlamydial disease, populations may be at higher risk from disease than anticipated, further impacting population viability.


See published article for methodology.

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Department of Transport and Main Roads, Queensland Government