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A genetic warning system for a hierarchically structured wildlife monitoring framework

December 22, 2022

Genetic variation is a well-known indicator of population fitness yet is not typically included in monitoring programs for sensitive species. Additionally, most programs monitor populations at one scale, which can lead to potential mismatches with ecological processes critical to species' conservation. Recently developed methods generating hierarchically nested population units (i.e., clusters of varying scales) for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) have identified population trend declines across spatiotemporal scales to help managers target areas for conservation. The same clusters used as a proxy for spatial scale can alert managers to local units (i.e., neighborhood-scale) with low genetic diversity, further facilitating identification of management targets. We developed a genetic warning system utilizing previously developed hierarchical population units to identify management-relevant areas with low genetic diversity within the greater sage-grouse range. Within this warning system we characterized conservation concern thresholds based on values of genetic diversity and developed a statistical model for microsatellite data to robustly estimate these values for hierarchically nested populations. We found that 41 of 224 neighborhood-scale clusters had low genetic diversity, 23 of which were coupled with documented local population trend decline. We also found evidence of cross-scale low genetic diversity in the small and isolated Washington population, unlikely to be reversed through typical local management actions alone. The combination of low genetic diversity and a declining population suggests relatively high conservation concern. Our findings could further facilitate conservation action prioritization in combination with population trend assessments and (or) local information, and act as a base-line of genetic diversity for future comparison. Importantly, the approach we used is broadly applicable across taxa.

Publication Year 2023
Title A genetic warning system for a hierarchically structured wildlife monitoring framework
DOI 10.1002/eap.2787
Authors Shawna J Zimmerman, Cameron L. Aldridge, Michael O'Donnell, David R. Edmunds, Peter S. Coates, Brian G. Prochazka, Jennifer A. Fike, Todd B. Cross, Bradley C. Fedy, Sara J. Oyler-McCance
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70242008
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center; Western Ecological Research Center