The effects of climate change on species of conservation concern

I am currently working on a large-scale project with the goal of determining which species are more likely to become conservation reliant with global climate change. The project is funded by the Department of Defense and is a collaboration with researchers from two non-profits: the Institute for Wildlife Studies and Point Blue, and three universities: Duke, North Carolina State University, and Virginia Tech. We are working with a variety of species that are either federally listed as threatened or endangered, or are closely related to listed species. These include: snowy plovers, red-cockaded woodpeckers, red-legged frogs, Appalachian brown butterflies, hydaspe fritillary butterflies, Venus fly-traps, and Alaska dwarf primrose. We are collecting demographic data on these species  from  populations that differ in environmental conditions (e.g. temperature and precipitation).  We will then use this demographic data in combination with climate projection models to predict how these species’ population dynamics will be influenced by climate change. I am primarily working with red-legged frogs and hydaspe fritillary butterflies, which you can read more about here.


Genetic Diversity in eelgrass (Zostera marina)


Field experiment in Bodega Bay (photo credit: Katie DuBois)

For my graduate work I studied the role of genetic diversity in eelgrass. My work focused on exploring the relationship between genetic and trait/phenotypic differentiation, and how trait diversity and genetic relatedness influence interactions among genotypes and the performance of assemblages of multiple genotypes. We know from previous studies that eelgrass genotypes differ in ecologically important traits like nutrient uptake rate, growth rate and shoot propagation, and susceptibility to grazing. We also have evidence that plots of eelgrass containing a greater number of genotypes are more resilient to disturbances like heat waves, geese grazing, and algal blooms.

Trade-offs between genotypes with differing traits (complementarity) may be one of the driving factors allowing more diverse plots to be more productive and resilient. Often researchers measure genetic diversity as the number of genotypes in an assemblage (genotypic richness), and while this does capture some of the diversity within a plot, the truth is that some genotypes likely share more traits than others and simply knowing  the number of genotypes may not be the best metric for capturing trait diversity. Another measure that may be used as a proxy for trait differentiation is genetic relatedness. The idea being that genotypes that are more closely related to one another would be more likely to have similar traits and vice versa. You can read more about my research exploring the role of relatedness and trait diversity in eelgrass systems here: linking genetic diversity to ecosystem function


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