Integration of genetic and demographic data to assess population risk in a continuously distributed species

Conservation Genetics
By: , and 



The identification and demographic assessment of biologically meaningful populations is fundamental to species’ ecology and management. Although genetic tools are used frequently to identify populations, studies often do not incorporate demographic data to understand their respective population trends. We used genetic data to define subpopulations in a continuously distributed species. We assessed demographic independence and variation in population trends across the distribution. Additionally, we identified potential barriers to gene flow among subpopulations. We sampled greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) leks from across their range (≈175,000 Km2) in Wyoming and amplified DNA at 14 microsatellite loci for 1761 samples. Subsequently, we assessed population structure in unrelated individuals (n = 872) by integrating results from multiple Bayesian clustering approaches and used the boundaries to inform our assessment of long-term population trends and lek activity over the period of 1995–2013. We identified four genetic clusters of which two northern ones showed demographic independence from the others. Trends in population size for the northwest subpopulation were statistically different from the other three genetic clusters and the northeast and southwest subpopulations demonstrated a general trend of increasing proportion of inactive leks over time. Population change from 1996 to 2012 suggested population growth in the southern subpopulations and decline, or neutral, change in the northern subpopulations. We suggest that sage-grouse subpopulations in northern Wyoming are at greater risk of extirpation than the southern subpopulations due to smaller census and effective population sizes and higher variability within subpopulations. Our research is an example of incorporating genetic and demographic data and provides guidance on the identification of subpopulations of conservation concern.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Integration of genetic and demographic data to assess population risk in a continuously distributed species
Series title Conservation Genetics
DOI 10.1007/s10592-016-0885-7
Volume 18
Issue 1
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 16 p.
First page 89
Last page 104
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