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Genomics-informed delineation of conservation units in a desert amphibian

August 17, 2022

Delineating conservation units (CUs, e.g., evolutionarily significant units, ESUs, and management units, MUs) is critical to the recovery of declining species because CUs inform both listing status and management actions. Genomic data have strengths and limitations in informing CU delineation and related management questions in natural systems. We illustrate the value of using genomic data in combination with landscape, dispersal, and occupancy data, to inform CU delineation in Nevada populations of the Great Basin Distinct Population Segment of the Columbia spotted frog (Rana luteiventris). R. luteiventris occupies naturally fragmented aquatic habitats in this xeric region, but beaver removal, climate change, and other factors have put many of these populations at high risk of extirpation without management intervention. We addressed three objectives: (1) assessing support for ESUs within Nevada; (2) evaluating and revising, if warranted, the current delineation of MUs; and (3) evaluating genetic diversity, effective population size, adaptive differentiation, and functional connectivity to inform ongoing management actions. We found little support for ESUs within Nevada but did identify potential revisions to MUs based on unique landscape drivers of connectivity that distinguish these desert populations from those in the northern portion of the species range. Effective sizes were uniformly small, with low genetic diversity and weak signatures of adaptive differentiation. Our findings suggest that management actions, including translocations and genetic rescue, might be warranted. Our study illustrates how a carefully planned genetic study, designed to address priority management goals that include CU delineation, can provide multiple insights to inform conservation action.

Publication Year 2022
Title Genomics-informed delineation of conservation units in a desert amphibian
DOI 10.1111/mec.16660
Authors Brenna R. Forester, Melanie Murphy, Chad Mellison, Jeffrey Petersen, David Pilliod, Rachel Van Horne, Jim Harvey, W. Chris Funk
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Molecular Ecology
Index ID 70235897
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center