Aussie Tammar Wallaby’s DNA Mapped and living the good life

Prior to the turn of the century there were two distinct sub-species of Tammar Wallabies inhabiting South Australia. Today, there is only one. Extensive habitat clearance for agricultural production and predation by foxes has lead to the extinction of the “mainland” Tammar subspecies over its entire former range.

Tammars are the smallest of the wallaby family, weighing in at only 5 kg to 7 kg. They have a dark grey-brown coat above, a pale buff grey coat beneath, with reddish arms, feet and flanks. Most individuals also display a faint white cheek stripe.macropus_eugenii

The recent re-discovery of the mainland Tammar Wallaby, prompted the Australian and South Australian Governments to develop a cooperative program to repatriate this unique Australian. Eighty-five Tammar Wallabies were successfully repatriated from New Zealand in 2003-2004 and were held in quarantine for twelve months at the Monarto Zoological Gardens, pending a full assessment of their state of health.

Prior to the removal of any wallabies from Kawau Island, a comprehensive site selection process was undertaken to decide where the wallabies could be reintroduced. The factors included in this decision were:

(1) habitat suitability (historic range, habitat quality, size of habitat, presence of historic threats, ability to undertake threat management)
(2) potential risks to other species and communities and
(3) the ability to effectively manage the wallaby population to ensure its continued survival and to minimize its impacts on neighboring land-uses.

These little wallabys are being carefully tended in their protected habitat.

Tammar Wallabies like many of the smaller wallaby species hide during the day they shelter among dense shrubby vegetation from predators like Wedge-tailed Eagles. Then venture out into open grassy areas at night to feed. Although each wallaby has a defined home range, these ranges overlap with those of other wallabies and aggressive encounters are few.

Tammar Wallabies have an unusual breeding pattern with most young being born on virtually the same day. Their fertilized eggs lay dormant, inside the mother (embryonic diapause), until the summer solstice, when fetal development resumes and all young are born approximately 40 days later, in late January or early February.

The kangaroo last shared a common ancestor with humans 150 million years ago.

The DNA sample taken from this little wallaby was decoded after being analyzed and sequenced over this last year. Researchers working with the government-funded Center of Excellence for Kangaroo Genomics recently finished putting the pieces of the sequence together to form a genetic map. The group plans to publish the research next year.

Scientists have already untangled the DNA of around two dozen mammals, including mice and chimps, which are closer to humans on the evolutionary timeline. By comparing the DNA profiles of different species, scientists can spot genes they never knew existed and figure out what DNA features have stayed the same or changed over time. Elements that have remained the same are usually genes that have helped animals survive over time.

Another team of researchers Miller and Penn State colleague Stephan Schuster are map the genome of the Tasmanian devil, which is in danger of extinction because of a contagious facial tumor disease. Miller and Schuster said their project could lead to a way to keep the species alive.
Earlier this year, scientists mapped the DNA of a platypus and found that it crosses different classifications of animals.

Finding out more about our fellow animals can help us learn more about humans.

Big hop forward: Scientists map kangaroo’s DNA -Threatened Species – Tammar Wallaby – KRISTEN GELINEAU, A P Nov 18, 2008

Excerpts from http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/biodiversity/tammar.html

Image and some text courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Macropus_eugenii.jpg#file

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