School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Australia
Concern about the plight of the dugong in many parts of its range has led to the development of a Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Dugongs and their Habitat, which is administered by the UNEP/ Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) office in Abu Dhabi. The UNEP/CMS Dugong MOU Secretariat (the Secretariat) has recognised the value of a study on dugong genetics across the range states. Such a study will provide information on the recent evolutionary history of the species (where they lived in the past and where they live now), on the extent of gene flow mediated by movement of individuals between dugong populations and localities, and on the genetic diversity remaining in different dugong populations. The Secretariat is supporting the development of a network of scientists in range states who can obtain samples suitable for this work (usually small pieces of skin) and who are willing to contribute information to a range-wide study. Researchers at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, have already established a set of methods that are being used to obtain genetic information from Australian dugongs. Samples from other range states can be sent to Australia for analysis. However, it is important to build capacity in other countries and this is being encouraged by the Secretariat.
During the course of other work, it is possible turtle researchers might come across dugongs (dead and stranded, drowned in nets etc.) If so, a small skin sample taken from such animals can provide a lot of genetic information. We normally collect a piece of skin (the coloured part of the skin, not the underlying white dermis or fat) about 10 x 10 mm and 1-2 mm thick. In the field, preservation in ethanol (70-90%) is appropriate. Remember to have a ratio of about 1 volume of tissue to at least 10 volumes of preserving fluid. For further information and advice, or to report sightings of dugongs (hopefully alive), in rarely-visited places, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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