Close-Kin Mark-Recapture: widening the scope with new genomics

A small seal on the rocks looking at a larger seal with its head up out of the water close by.

Close-Kin Mark-Recapture (CKMR) is a technique being trialed around the world to manage species such as seals, moose, sharks and bats. Image by Foto-Rabe on Pixabay.

Estimating the abundance of wild populations is vital for sustainable management of biological resources, particularly fisheries. It supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. However, abundance is difficult to estimate accurately.

Close-Kin Mark-Recapture (CKMR) – developed at CSIRO – is a technique used to infer population demographics by identifying close-kin-pairs (parent-offspring or half-siblings) amongst a collection of sampled animals. It is already used successfully to manage southern bluefin tuna, and projects are underway worldwide for species as diverse as sharks, seals, moose and bats.

In order to scale up this already very successful technique to accommodate very abundant species such as tropical tunas, we need to further increase the stringency applied to detecting related animals. In this new FSP project we will use marker mapping onto whole genomes to reduce the number of markers required to identify kin. This will make CKMR cheaper and broaden the range of species it can be applied to. We will also refine the technique so that it can be used to identify less closely related kin for at-risk species. This will provide much needed demographic information for managing threatened species, such as rate of population decline or growth per generation.

Lead: Pierre Feutry
Collaborators: Oceans & Atmosphere, Data61