Using Genetic Markers to Enhance Conservation Efforts

Species conservation is a fundamental goal. Every species provides an important service within its respective ecosystem. Conservation managers strive to maximize biodiversity to retain ecosystem resources. A species’ genome dictates its fundamental capacity to adapt to a changing environment. Conservation geneticists can optimize management efforts for biodiversity by utilizing genetic markers, genes or short stretches of DNA to measure changes in an organism’s genome across spatiotemporal scales.

Goals


Current Status

We showcase how conservation managers can integrate genetic markers to quantify biodiversity at various spatiotemporal scales and retain ecosystem services. Herein, we inferred the evolutionary history of gar Lepisosteidae by conducting phylogenetic analysis on complete mitochondrial genomes of all extant gar species using the maximum likelihood method and the General Time Reversable model. We generated important genetic markers for future studies to track hybridization amongst these lineages and determined that hybridization between Cuban Gar (Atractosteus tristoechus) and Alligator Gar, (Atractosteus spatula) may provide an alternative conservation strategy to retain an apex predator within Cuba’s ecosystems. We sequenced the mitochondrial 16S ribosomal RNA of bacterial species located within the gut microbiome of the endangered Pallid Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus) and determined that the gut microbiome of hatchery-raised Pallid Sturgeon effectively transition to the gut microbiome of wild Pallid Sturgeon. We used nuclear and mitochondrial single nucleotide polymorphisms to determine that Bighead Carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) and Silver Carp (H. molitrix) exhibited hybridization in native regions and provided an important baseline for future studies to determine if new anthropogenic disturbances in China will alter evolutionary trajectories of Bighead Carp and Silver Carp. Finally, we proposed ‘population’ as the least inclusive category of the Linnaean classification system – a distinctive unit that can monitored across geospatial scales and that can be compared across classes to study speciation. We further proposed a ‘species spectrum’ concept that represents the amalgamation of intraspecific variations observed amongst populations.

Phylogenetic tree representing phylogenetic relationships of Nebraska Shortnose Gar to the other seven extant gar species. Image: Sarah Gaughan
Phylogenetic tree representing phylogenetic relationships of Nebraska Shortnose Gar to the other seven extant gar species. Image: Sarah Gaughan
Principal Investigator(s)
-Kevin L. Pope
-Sarah J. Gaughan

Graduate Student(s)
-Sarah Gaughan, Ph.D. (2020)


Project Duration
June 2017 - May 2020

Funding
-Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Project Location
Statewide Nebraska
Cooperators