Phylogeography of the iconic Australian pink cockatoo, Lophochroa leadbeateri

Kyle M. Ewart, Rebecca N Johnson, Leo Joseph, Rob Ogden, Greta J Frankham, Nathan Lo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The pink cockatoo (Lophochroa leadbeateri; or Major Mitchell’s cockatoo) is one of Australia’s most iconic bird species. Two subspecies based on morphology are separated by a biogeographical divide, the Eyrean Barrier. Testing the genetic basis for this subspecies delineation, clarifying barriers to gene flow and identifying any cryptic genetic diversity will likely have important implications for conservation and management. Here, we used genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and mitochondrial DNA data to conduct the first range-wide genetic assessment of the species. The aims were to investigate the phylogeography of the pink cockatoo, to characterize conservation units and to reassess subspecies boundaries. We found consistent but weak genetic structure between the two subspecies based on nuclear SNPs. However, phylogenetic analysis of nuclear SNPs and mitochondrial DNA sequence data did not recover reciprocally monophyletic groups, indicating incomplete evolutionary separation between the subspecies. Consequently, we have proposed that the two currently recognized subspecies be treated as separate management units rather than evolutionarily significant units. Given that poaching is suspected to be a threat to this species, we assessed the utility of our data for wildlife forensic applications. We demonstrated that a subspecies identification test could be designed using as few as 20 SNPs.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiological journal of the linnean society
Early online date27 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • conservation genetics
  • Lophochroa leadbeateri
  • phylogeography
  • population genomics
  • wildlife forensics
  • wildlife trade


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