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Development of germplasm repositories to assist conservation of endangered fishes: Examples from small-bodied livebearing fishes

Liu, Yue, Blackburn, Harvey, Taylor, Sabrina S., Tiersch, Terrence R.
Theriogenology 2019 v.135 pp. 138-151
Xiphophorus, breeding, conservation programs, cryopreservation, endangered species, fish, freezing, genetic variation, germplasm, habitat conservation, habitats, information systems, models, pregnancy, protocols, sperm motility, spermatozeugmata
Germplasm repositories are a necessary tool for comprehensive conservation programs to fully preserve valuable genetic resources of imperiled animals. Cryopreserved germplasm can be used in the future to produce live young for integration into other conservation projects, such as habitat restoration, captive breeding, and translocations; thus compensating for genetic losses or negative changes that would otherwise be permanent. Although hundreds of cryopreservation protocols for various aquatic species have been published, there are great difficulties in moving such research forward into applied conservation projects. Successful freezing of sperm in laboratories for research does not guarantee successful management and incorporation of genetic resources into conservation programs in reality. The goal of the present review is to provide insights and practical strategies to apply germplasm repositories as a real-world tool to assist conservation of imperiled aquatic species. Live-bearing (viviparous) fishes are used as models herein to help explain concepts because they are good examples for aquatic species in general, especially small-bodied fishes. Small live-bearing fishes are among the most at-risk fish groups in the world, and need urgent conservation attention. However, development of germplasm repositories for small live-bearing fishes is challenged by their unusual reproductive characteristics, such as formation of sperm bundles, initiation of spermatozoa motility in an isotonic environment, internal fertilization and gestation, and the bearing of live young. The development of germplasm repositories for goodeids and Xiphophorus species can provide examples for addressing these challenges. Germplasm repositories must contain multiple basic components, including frozen samples, genetic assessment and information systems. Standardization and process generalization are important strategies to help develop reliable and efficient repositories. An ideal conservation or recovery program for imperiled species should include a comprehensive approach, that combines major concerns such as habitat (by restoration projects), population propagation and maintenance (by captive breeding or translocation projects), and preservation of genetic diversity (by repository projects). In this context, strong collaboration among different sectors and people with different expertise is a key to the success of such comprehensive programs.