Levels and Patterns of Genetic Diversity in Wild Populations and Cultured Stocks of Cherax Quadricarinatus (von Martens, 1868) (Decapoda: Parastacidae)

Baker, Natalie (2006) Levels and Patterns of Genetic Diversity in Wild Populations and Cultured Stocks of Cherax Quadricarinatus (von Martens, 1868) (Decapoda: Parastacidae). PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Studying species at the molecular level can provide insights into how ecological and biological processes interrelate resulting in the diversity we see today. This information can be applied to conserve species at risk of extinction, or to better manage genetic diversity in species of economic importance. Species that inhabit freshwater riverine systems commonly exhibit population structures that are related to their relative dispersal capability, contemporary stream structure and/or historical stream structure. This thesis examined the populations genetic structure of wild and cultured stocks of the commercially farmed freshwater crayfish, C. quadricarinatus (von Martens), using genetic markers characterized by different modes of inheritance. C. quadricarinatus is distributed naturally in riverine systems in northern Australia, and southern Paupa New Guinea (PNG) and inhabits a variety of freshwater ecosystems ranging from ephemeral to permanent. Life history characteristics of C. quadricarinatus suggest a high level of genetic structuring among wild stocks might exist. However, seasonal flooding coupled with low topography across its distribution in northern Australia may promote sufficient gene flow among rivers to produce genetic homogeneity. Historical gene flow may also influence modern genetic structure as many distinct riverine catchments that C. quadricarinatus inhabits, were once connected at times of lower sea level. Insight into genetic relationships among C. quadricarinatus populations will allow for better management practices of wild populations in the future.

The study investigated phylogenetic relationships among C. quadricarinatus representing 17 discrete natural drainages across the natural range in Australia and PNG, using 16s and COI gene sequences. Sequence analysis of both genes resolved two distinct genealogical lineages in Australia and three in PNG. The two divergent Australian lineages concur with original taxonomic descriptions of Reik (1969) based on external morphological differences. The three C. quadricarinatus populations sampled in PNG were all genetically distinct from each other, with one exhibiting a close association with an Australia lineage. The immense physical barriers (rugged mountain ranges) to gene flow in PNG will almost certainly have reduced dispersal capabilities for C. quadricarinatus. During times of lowered sea levels in the past, Australia and southern PNG were a single landmass with terrestrial and freshwater organisms theoretically able to disperse over associated land and via freshwater connections. The close genetic relationship between PNG and Australian C. quadricarinatus support a recent freshwater connection and hence gene flow between northern Australia and PNG C. quadricarinatus populations.

Genetic differentiation among some C. quadricarinatus lineages exhibit as much genetic divergence at 16s RNA sequences as taxonomically recognised sub-species in the Cherax genus. Since C. quadricarinatus was originally described as different species based on external morphological differences (Reik, 1969), it is recommended that the taxonomy of C. quadricarinatus in Australia and PNG be re-evaluated.

C. quadricarinatus specific microsatellite markers were developed for this study. Five variable loci were employed to investigate the extent of contemporary gene flow among fourteen C. quadricarinatus wild river populations in northern Australia. High FST and genetic distance estimates observed among pair wise comparisons of C. quadricarinatus populations are consistent with limited or no gene flow occurring among drainages. Speculation that C. quadricarinatus may disperse between adjacent or nearby drainages at times of flood, either across floodplains, or via flood plumes therefore seems highly unlikely among the populations examined in the current study. No significant correlation was observed between geographic distance and genetic distance among C. quadricarinatus populations here. C. quadricarinatus populations most closely resemble an island-like model, where gene flow is independent of geographic distance among populations and where genetic divergence occurs to a greater or lesser extent as a result of genetic drift within otherwise isolated populations.

A significant number of C. quadricarinatus populations showed deviations from expected Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium (HWE). Samples sizes may not have been sufficiently large to reflect a true representation of genotypic proportions present in the sampled populations due to the highly variable nature of microsatellite loci. Deviations from HWE equilibrium, however, can also result from null alleles. Null allele estimates suggested a large proportion of null alleles were present in the C. quadricarinatus populations analysed. This may be a result of C. quadricarinatus populations confined to discrete drainages experiencing independent evolution, resulting in mutations in primer binding sites.

The growing economic potential of C. quadricarinatus culture, both domestically and internationally, prompted expanding the current study to examine genetic diversity levels in commercial C. quadricarinatus stocks. The study employed five microsatellite markers to quantify genetic diversity in four Australian and three C. quadricarinatus culture stocks from overseas. Many C. quadricarinatus culture stocks also showed deviations from HWE expectations. This was not a surprising result given that the wild populations also deviated and domestication can also influence HWE. Relatively high levels of genetic diversity were observed. This probably results from intentional mixing of discrete river strains for production of the first commercial stock. Genetic differentiation estimates among culture stocks and assignment tests indicated that overseas culture stocks are most likely derived from the first commercial culture stock developed in Australia and then disseminated widely (the Hutchings stock). Robin Hutchings was a known supplier of live C. quadricarinatus to many international culture initiatives. Assignment of culture stocks back to their wild origins indicated that all C. quadricarinatus culture stocks sampled possess alleles that originate from the Flinders River (proportions ranged from 33-94%).

Domestication of C. quadricarinatus to date has not resulted in significant reductions in levels of genetic diversity (heterozygosity or alleles richness) when compared to wild populations sampled in this study. Comparing culture stocks to wild populations to gauge their 'genetic health' may not be a suitable scale for evaluating genetic diversity in culture stocks. Wild populations are essentially evolving independently, are subjected to harsh seasonal environmental fluctuations resulting in periodic population crashes (genetic bottlenecks), with little or no recruitment from neighbouring drainages (gene flow). This study does however indicate that there is a large amount of genetic diversity distributed among wild populations that has yet to be exploited in culture. Genetic diversity in wild populations provides a resource for future stock improvement programs for C. quadricarinatus culture and thus requires careful conservation and appropriate management.

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ID Code: 16255
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Mather, Peter & Wilson, John
Keywords: cherax quadricarinatus, mitochondrial DNA, microsatellites, population genetics, phylogeography, aquaculture
Divisions: Past > Schools > Biogeoscience
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Department: Faculty of Science
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Natalie Baker
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 03:59
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:45

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