Marsupial cats of Australia

The eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus), formerly known as the eastern native cat is a medium-sized carnivorous marsupial found only in Australia. It is one of six extant species of quolls.

Eastern quoll, photo by Edwinna Bartley [CC BY-NC 2.0], via flickr.com

The size of a small domestic cat, it’s no wonder the eastern quoll is a favourite marsupial of those lucky enough to see one. Nocturnal by nature, this solitary but bold carnivore usually hunts in open country or woodland. It can occasionally be spotted foraging by day but prefers to spend daylight hours in nests made under rocks in underground burrows or fallen logs.


Eastern quolls are generally about the size of a small domestic cat. Females are significantly smaller, measuring 48 to 58 cm (19 to 23 in), and weighing around 0.7 kg (1.5 lb). The eastern quoll has a pointed nose, and a bushy tail. They have a thick coat covered by white spots, that can be either light fawn or near black, with off-white underparts stretching from the chin to the underside of the tail. Eastern quolls can be distinguished from all other species of quoll by the presence of only four toes (rather than five) on the hind feet, lacking the hallux (1).


The species is currently classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2). It is functionally extinct on mainland Australia due to disease and predation by introduced predators (red fox and feral cat), but remains widespread in Tasmania, and is also found today on Bruny Island. The lack of foxes in Tasmania likely has contributed to the survival of the species there; however, unseasonal weather events and predation by feral cats are thought to be contributing to a possible recent decline in the Tasmanian population.


Today, we share the chromosome-length genome assembly for the eastern quoll. As far as we know, this is the first whole-genome resource for the species. This is a $1K genome assembly, with contig N50 of 42kb and scaffold N50 of 531Mb. See our Methods page for more detail on the procedure. The interactive contact map of the eastern quoll’s chromosomes is included below.

We gratefully acknowledge the tissue samples provided by the Ranger Red’s Zoo & Conservation Park and the collaboration with Natasha Tay, Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University towards tissue preparations. The Hi-C work was enabled by resources provided by DNA Zoo Australia, The University of Western Australia (UWA) and DNA Zoo, Aiden Lab at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) with additional computational resources and support from the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.


We hope that this assembly will provide the genomics resource towards the Tasmanian Quoll Conservation Program (TQCP), to estimate the genome-wide genetic diversity present in the existing Tasmanian population, ensure mainland populations being released in wild and otherwise help protect this charismatic marsupial cat.


Citations

1. Jones, M.E. & Rose, R.K. (2001). "Dasyurus viverrinus". Mammalian Species. 677: 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1644/1545-1410(2001)677<0001:DV>2.0.CO;2

2. Burbidge, A.A. & Woinarski, J. (2016). Dasyurus viverrinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T6296A21947190. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T6296A21947190.en

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