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Environmental gradients of selection for an alpine-obligate bird, the white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura)

August 17, 2020

The warming climate will expose alpine species adapted to a highly seasonal, harsh environment to novel environmental conditions. A species can shift their distribution, acclimate, or adapt in response to a new climate. Alpine species have little suitable habitat to shift their distribution, and the limits of acclimation will likely be tested by climate change in the long-term. Adaptive genetic variation may provide the raw material for species to adapt to this changing environment. Here, we use a genomic approach to describe adaptive divergence in an alpine-obligate species, the white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura), a species distributed from Alaska to New Mexico, across an environmentally variable geographic range. Previous work has identified genetic structure and morphological, behavioral, and physiological differences across the species’ range; however, those studies were unable to determine the degree to which adaptive divergence is correlated with local variation in environmental conditions. We used a genome-wide dataset generated from 95 white-tailed ptarmigan distributed throughout the species’ range and genotype–environment association analyses to identify the genetic signature and environmental drivers of local adaptation. We detected associations between multiple environmental gradients and candidate adaptive loci, suggesting ptarmigan populations may be locally adapted to the plant community composition, elevation, local climate, and to the seasonality of the environment. Overall, our results suggest there may be groups within the species’ range with genetic variation that could be essential for adapting to a changing climate and helpful in guiding conservation action.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Environmental gradients of selection for an alpine-obligate bird, the white-tailed ptarmigan (Lagopus leucura)
DOI 10.1038/s41437-020-0352-6
Authors Shawna J Zimmerman, Cameron L. Aldridge, Kathryn M. Langin, Gregory T Wann, Robert S. Cornman, Sara J. Oyler-McCance
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Heredity
Index ID 70212679
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center