Research indicating some hybrydisation of wild hog deer in Australia answers some questions and raises some others about the management of this highly prized game species.
Hybridisation or crossbreeding between individuals and gene introgression (the transfer of genes between species and sub species) play important roles in the evolutionary process. Although hybridisation is generally perceived negatively when considering conservation and management of natural resources, it may be of key importance for the survival of some species under rapidly changing environmental conditions.
The recent La Trobe University study, published in Ecology and Evolution has revealed that the hog deer introduced to Victoria in the 1860’s all have some level of hybridisation with chital deer. It is unknown when this hybridisation occurred, however it is quite possible that it was prior to their introduction to Australia in a large ‘hybrid zone’ where native populations of the two species overlap on the Indian sub-continent.
Lead researcher Erin Hill has been working on the project for a number of years.
“Exactly where the hybridisation occurred is unknown. It may have occurred in their native range, in captivity prior to release, or following release in Victoria”.
Ms Hill said it is vital to stress the importance of the introduced species for conservation.
“Victoria is home to one of the few remaining stable populations of hog deer left in the world.”
More research is needed before translocations could occur.
“The next steps are to assess the hybridisation rate of hog deer and chital within the native range in India, and to further explore the idea of translocating Victorian hog deer back to the native range by measuring the levels of genetic variation within the Victorian population” Ms Hill said.
“Genetic variation is important as it allows individuals to adapt to their environment, and so it is important to reintroduce as much genetic variation as possible back into the native range to ensure long-term survival of the species.”
Widespread hybridization in the introduced hog deer population of Victoria, Australia, and its implications for conservation. Hill et al. Ecology and Evolution. 2019, 00:1-15
Hybridisation in European ungulates: an overview of the current status, causes and consequences. Lacolina et al. Mammal Review. Vol 49, Issue 1.