Conservation Genetics

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 937–952 | Cite as

Habitat connectivity, more than species’ biology, influences genetic differentiation in a habitat specialist, the short-eared rock-wallaby (Petrogale brachyotis)

  • Sally Potter
  • Mark D. B. Eldridge
  • Steven J. B. Cooper
  • Justyna Z. Paplinska
  • David A. Taggart
Research Article


It is difficult to assess the relative influence of anthropogenic processes (e.g., habitat fragmentation) versus species’ biology on the level of genetic differentiation among populations when species are restricted in their distribution to fragmented habitats. This issue is particularly problematic for Australian rock-wallabies (Petrogale sp.), where most previous studies have examined threatened species in anthropogenically fragmented habitats. The short-eared rock-wallaby (Petrogale brachyotis) provides an opportunity to assess natural population structure and gene flow in relatively continuous habitat across north-western Australia. This region has reported widespread declines in small-to-medium sized mammals, making data regarding the influence of habitat connectivity on genetic diversity important for broad-scale management. Using non-invasive and standard methods, 12 microsatellite loci and mitochondrial DNA were compared to examine patterns of population structure and dispersal among populations of P. brachyotis in the Kimberley, Western Australia. Low genetic differentiation was detected between populations separated by up to 67 km. The inferred genetic connectivity of these populations suggests that in suitable habitat P. brachyotis can potentially disperse far greater distances than previously reported for rock-wallabies in more fragmented habitat. Like other Petrogale species male-biased dispersal was detected. These findings suggest that a complete understanding of population biology may not be achieved solely by the study of fragmented populations in disturbed environments and that management strategies may need to draw on studies of populations (or related species) in undisturbed areas of contiguous habitat.


Petrogale brachyotis Rock-wallaby Mitochondrial DNA Microsatellites Habitat connectivity Genetic diversity 



We would like to thank: Cecilia Myers, Henry Cook, Alexander Dudley, George Madani, Raz Martin, Liberty Olds, Jim Reside, Michael Elliott, Kathy Saint, Melanie Lancaster, Emily Miller, Jeremy Austin, David Pearson, Lauren Brown, Bill Stewart, Mitchell River and Miriuwung Gajerrong rangers and Department of Environment and Conservation staff for providing samples, assisting with sample collection, mapping or laboratory protocols. We are also grateful to Craig Moritz and Mike Westerman for helpful comments on a thesis version of the manuscript. This research was supported by funding from The Dunkeld Pastoral Company Pty. Ltd., ANZ Holsworth Wildlife Research Fund, The Australian Museum, The University of Adelaide and South Australian Museum.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 26 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sally Potter
    • 1
    • 2
  • Mark D. B. Eldridge
    • 2
    • 3
  • Steven J. B. Cooper
    • 1
    • 4
  • Justyna Z. Paplinska
    • 5
  • David A. Taggart
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Earth & Environmental Science and Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and BiodiversityUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Terrestrial VertebratesAustralian MuseumSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  4. 4.Evolutionary Biology UnitSouth Australian MuseumAdelaideAustralia
  5. 5.Department of ZoologyThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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