The pichy (Zaedyus pichiy) or dwarf armadillo is near threatened species that ranges from central to southern Argentina and Chile. The primary objective of this project was to analyze phylogeographic patterns of dwarf armadillos along their entire distribution using molecular markers, examining the relationship between these patterns and geomorphological history. This analysis would provide a measure of genetic diversity among and between armadillo populations throughout their range with the aim of identifying populations that are evolutionarily important for species conservation. A secondary objective of the project was to provide outreach materials about armadillos to local communities to promote conservation through sustainable use and responsible hunting practices as well as conservation in general of mountain and steppe habitats.
Researchers collected 150 armadillo samples from museum collections, donated by other researchers and collected during fieldwork. The variable quality and age of samples provided the opportunity to test different protocols and modified techniques for DNA extraction and PCR amplification of the selected genetic markers. Based on amplification of several markers (mitochondrial D-loop and cytochrome oxidase), preliminary analysis demonstrate a high diversity of haplotypes (genetic variants) relative to the number of sequences, suggesting clear population structure and supporting the use of the selected genetic markers as informative for phylogeographic study of this species. Additional samples were collected during the timeframe of CREOi support and are currently being processed to contribute to a complete analysis of population genetic structure of the dwarf armadillo.
The team also developed positive relationships with residents near the field study sites, providing printed outreach materials that were well-received and acquiring important information about traditional household uses of and attitudes towards armadillos. This information will be useful for designing additional outreach efforts related to conservation of local wildlife and habitats. ($7,970)