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Population Genetic Tools for Species Conservation and Management

Kimberly Kanapeckas, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

24 March 2017

Divergence and hybridization are important processes leading to adaptation; however, because these processes often involve closely related lineages in open systems, their mechanisms are not always straightforward. Genetic tools can provide critical information on species interactions and mechanisms of population divergence in both terrestrial and aquatic systems. DNA sequence data and molecular marker panels offer opportunities for geneticists, ecologists, and conservators to resolve questions of population connectivity in determining effective units of management, particularly when combined with demographic data. Here, Dr. Kanapeckas provides two examples of hypothesis-driven population genetic approaches to connect patterns of genotype, phenotype, and responsible conservation management in a terrestrial and aquatic system, and address theoretical and empirical challenges to capturing such patterns in wild taxa (often exhibiting cryptic structure).

Dr. Kanapackas's work in Oryza spp. tests for genome-wide signatures of selection in wild and cultivated rice populations to describe de-domestication on a contemporary timescale, characterized by new biotypes and elevated sequence diversity, novel polymorphisms, and non-random accumulation of non-synonymous substitutions at specific codons in adaptation-related genes. These results suggest that reversion to wild traits can occur under human-mediated selection, and that management methods focused on incoming weed sources may miss burgeoning invasive genotypes that rapidly adapt, establish, and proliferate.

Currently, Dr. Kanapackas is evaluating temporal changes in population genetic stock structure and demography (size and age at maturity, length, and sex composition) of Scamp grouper (Mycteroperca phenax), a commercially and recreationally important reef fish species distributed along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the SE US. Statistical comparisons of population genetic diversity indices and abundance estimates for Scamp grouper will provide managers with information vital to the management and distribution of fishing effort on genetically and demographically unique populations and highlight promising genetic datasets that could be incorporated into future stock assessments, monitoring, and conservation studies, regardless of the species of interest.