Genetic differences between populations of the Naracoorte cave cricket

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Description

This project will determine how genetically similar populations of the Naracoorte cave cricket (Novotettix naracoortensis) are to each other, with the aim to:

  • better understand if and how far individual crickets travel between caves
  • determine if all cricket populations in the area belong to one species.

Of particular interest is the issue that individual crickets are thought not be equipped to travel long distances between separate caves. This is confounding as, on the other hand, the species as a whole is apparently spread over a large geographic area. How can this be if the movement of individual crickets is limited?

An explanation may be that the Naracoorte cave cricket actually represents a mix of very closely related species that have become genetically different from each other as a result of isolation in caves. We will investigate this by studying genetic differences between geographically distant populations. If these populations are found to be genetically distinct then it suggests that the crickets cannot travel long distances to interbreed. However, if crickets from distant caves are found to be genetically identical, then this suggests that their capability for movement is more extensive than originally thought. An additional outcome of studying these populations will be to see if their genetic differences are extensive enough for some to be considered a different species to the Naracoorte cave cricket.

This project will be the first of its kind to use genetic approaches to study cave crickets unique to Australia. Data from other cave systems in South Australia will be examined along with the results of this study to investigate the evolutionary relationships within Australian cave crickets as a whole.

Researcher

Timeline

Feb 2016 – Oct 2016