Origins and population genetics of sambar deer (Cervus unicolor) introduced to Australia and New Zealand


Lee A. Rollins, Daniel Lees, Andrew P. Woolnough, Andrea J. West, Michael Perry and
David M. Forsyth.


Some populations of introduced species cause significant undesirable impacts but can also act as reservoirs for genetic diversity. Sambar deer (Cervus unicolor) are ‘Vulnerable’ in their native range and invasive in Australia and New Zealand. Genetic data can be used to determine whether these introduced populations might serve as genetic reservoirs for declining native populations and to identify spatial units for management. We aimed to identify the provenance of sambar deer in Australia and New Zealand, and to characterise their genetic diversity and population structure.

Sambar deer in Australia and New Zealand are genetically more similar to those in the west of the native range (South and Central Highlands of India, and Sri Lanka), than to those in the east (eastern India, and throughout Southeast Asia). Australian and New Zealand sambar deer were genetically distinct but there was no population structure within either population.

The lack of population genetic structure that we found within introduced populations suggests that individuals within these populations do not experience barriers to dispersal across the areas sampled. Although genetic diversity is reduced in the introduced range compared with the native range, sambar deer in Australia and New Zealand harbour unique genetic variants that could be used to strengthen genetic diversity in populations under threat in the native range. The apparent high levels of gene flow across the areas we sampled suggest that localised control is unlikely to be effective in Australia and New Zealand.

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