Conservation genetics of Natterjack toads at Red Rocks

w/ Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Dr. Lottie Hosie and Dr. Anna Muir

Small, isolated populations are at high risk of local extinction due to loss of genetic variability and associated reduction in fitness. Therefore, knowledge of population size and genetic diversity in isolated populations is vital in order to prioritise conservation actions and recover populations that are at risk. The natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita) is endangered and legally protected in Britain and exists in less than 40 locations, making it of high conservation concern. One native natterjack toad site lies on the edge of the Dee Estuary at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Red Rocks Nature Reserve. The historical population declined to extinction in the early 90’s and was reintroduced from a source population in North Merseyside However, due to the lack of suitable surrounding coastal dune habitat, the natterjack toad population at Red Rocks is now thought to be completely isolated and concerns have been raised that population numbers are low. Therefore, knowledge of population size and genetic diversity of the natterjack toads at this site are vital to avoid a second local extinction event. This project will involve collection of non-invasive samples in the field and will use conservation genetic techniques, including microsatellite markers and genetic capture-recapture, to: 1) quantify the number of individuals within the population; and 2) assess the genetic diversity of the population. The results of this study will be used to form conservation recommendations with Cheshire Wildlife Trust. The ideal candidate will have previous experience of laboratory work (including DNA extraction and PCR) and access to a vehicle for fieldwork.