Publications by authors named "Thomas Espinoza"

3 Publications

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Nonlethal age estimation of three threatened fish species using DNA methylation: Australian lungfish, Murray cod and Mary River cod.

Mol Ecol Resour 2021 Jun 23. Epub 2021 Jun 23.

School of Biological Sciences, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA, Australia.

Age-based demography is fundamental to management of wild fish populations. Age estimates for individuals can determine rates of change in key life-history parameters such as length, maturity, mortality and fecundity. These age-based characteristics are critical for population viability analysis in endangered species and for developing sustainable harvest strategies. For teleost fish, age has traditionally been determined by counting increments formed in calcified structures such as otoliths. However, the collection of otoliths is lethal and therefore undesirable for threatened species. At a molecular level, age can be predicted by measuring DNA methylation. Here, we use previously identified age-associated sites of DNA methylation in zebrafish (Danio rerio) to develop two epigenetic clocks for three threatened freshwater fish species. One epigenetic clock was developed for the Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) and the second for the Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii) and Mary River cod (Maccullochella mariensis). Age estimation models were calibrated using either known-age individuals, ages derived from otoliths or bomb radiocarbon dating of scales. We demonstrate a high Pearson's correlation between the chronological and predicted age in both the Lungfish clock (cor = .98) and Maccullochella clock (cor = .92). The median absolute error rate for both epigenetic clocks was also low (Lungfish = 0.86 years; Maccullochella = 0.34 years). This study demonstrates the transferability of DNA methylation sites for age prediction between highly phylogenetically divergent fish species. Given the method is nonlethal and suited to automation, age prediction by DNA methylation has the potential to improve fisheries and other wildlife management settings.
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June 2021

Monitoring age-related trends in genomic diversity of Australian lungfish.

Mol Ecol 2018 Jul 10. Epub 2018 Jul 10.

Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Nathan, Qld, Australia.

An important challenge for conservation science is to detect declines in intraspecific diversity so that management action can be guided towards populations or species at risk. The lifespan of Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri) exceeds 80 years, and human impacts on breeding habitat over the last half century may have impeded recruitment, leaving populations dominated by old postreproductive individuals, potentially resulting in a small and declining breeding population. Here, we conduct a "single-sample" evaluation of genetic erosion within contemporary populations of the Australian lungfish. Genetic erosion is a temporal decline in intraspecific diversity due to factors such as reduced population size and inbreeding. We examined whether young individuals showed signs of reduced genetic diversity and/or inbreeding using a novel bomb radiocarbon dating method to age lungfish nonlethally, based on C ratios of scales. A total of 15,201 single nucleotide polymorphic (SNP) loci were genotyped in 92 individuals ranging in age from 2 to 77 years old. Standardized individual heterozygosity and individual inbreeding coefficients varied widely within and between riverine populations, but neither was associated with age, so perceived problems with recruitment have not translated into genetic erosion that could be considered a proximate threat to lungfish populations. Conservation concern has surrounded Australian lungfish for over a century. However, our results suggest that long-lived threatened species can maintain stable levels of intraspecific variability when sufficient reproductive opportunities exist over the course of a long lifespan.
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July 2018

Extremely low microsatellite diversity but distinct population structure in a long-lived threatened species, the Australian lungfish Neoceratodus forsteri (Dipnoi).

PLoS One 2015 8;10(4):e0121858. Epub 2015 Apr 8.

Seqwater, Ipswich, Queensland, Australia.

The Australian lungfish is a unique living representative of an ancient dipnoan lineage, listed as 'vulnerable' to extinction under Australia's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Historical accounts indicate this species occurred naturally in two adjacent river systems in Australia, the Burnett and Mary. Current day populations in other rivers are thought to have arisen by translocation from these source populations. Early genetic work detected very little variation and so had limited power to answer questions relevant for management including how genetic variation is partitioned within and among sub-populations. In this study, we use newly developed microsatellite markers to examine samples from the Burnett and Mary Rivers, as well as from two populations thought to be of translocated origin, Brisbane and North Pine. We test whether there is significant genetic structure among and within river drainages; assign putatively translocated populations to potential source populations; and estimate effective population sizes. Eleven polymorphic microsatellite loci genotyped in 218 individuals gave an average within-population heterozygosity of 0.39 which is low relative to other threatened taxa and for freshwater fishes in general. Based on FST values (average over loci = 0.11) and STRUCTURE analyses, we identify three distinct populations in the natural range, one in the Burnett and two distinct populations in the Mary. These analyses also support the hypothesis that the Mary River is the likely source of translocated populations in the Brisbane and North Pine rivers, which agrees with historical published records of a translocation event giving rise to these populations. We were unable to obtain bounded estimates of effective population size, as we have too few genotype combinations, although point estimates were low, ranging from 29 - 129. We recommend that, in order to preserve any local adaptation in the three distinct populations that they be managed separately.
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April 2016