King penguin population on Macquarie Island recovers ancient DNA diversity after heavy exploitation in historic times

Tim H. Heupink, John van den Hoff, David M. Lambert

Abstract

Historically, king penguin populations on Macquarie Island have suffered greatly from human exploitation. Two large colonies on the island were drastically reduced to a single small colony as a result of harvesting for the blubber oil industry. However, recent conservation efforts have resulted in the king penguin population expanding in numbers and range to recolonize previous as well as new sites. Ancient DNA methods were used to estimate past genetic diversity and combined with studies of modern populations, we are now able to compare past levels of variation with extant populations on northern Macquarie Island. The ancient and modern populations are closely related and show a similar level of genetic diversity. These results suggest that the king penguin population has recovered past genetic diversity in just 80 years owing to conservation efforts, despite having seen the brink of extinction.

  • Received January 18, 2012.
  • Accepted February 1, 2012.
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