The Stewart Island kākāpō population has low genetic diversity as shown by previous work with mini-satellite and micro-satellite DNA sequences obtained from blood samples. This lack of variation is supported by signs of inbreeding in the Stewart Island birds, such as poor egg fertility and hatch-ability.
Richard Henry, the last Fiordland kākāpō, and his three offspring have the greatest degree of genetic variation and these birds are extremely valuable to help overcome these inbreeding issues.
Mini-satellite DNA analysis has helped us determine the paternity of chicks produced in recent years. However, micro-satellite primers now give us a far greater understanding of the relationships between birds.
Armed with this information, we aim to manage breeding to ensure the population is as productive as possible, and to ensure that there is as much genetic diversity in the new generation of kākāpō as possible.
Micro-satellite primers are like the “Rosetta Stone” of kākāpō genetics; the key to unravelling the genetic relationships between kākāpō, and thereby, to preventing inbreeding and maximising the genetic diversity of the next generation. This work is done in collaboration with Dr. Bruce Robertson of Otago University.