Date of Award
Ph.D. in Biological Science
University of Mississippi
Wildlife conservation has become increasingly difficult due to habitat loss habitat fragmentation and land use change. Thus conservationists have embraced advances in molecular ecology such as landscape genetics and microbial bioinformatics that employ genetic techniques to further understand the relationship between individuals and their environment. In landscape genetics model inferences can be used to identify features that facilitate or resist gene flow providing a framework for anticipating the impacts of land use changes on a species’ ability to disperse. However the factors that affect the transferability of landscape genetics inferences are poorly understood and little is known about the effect of sampling density and study area size on landscape genetics inferences. To address these understudied factors I performed a series of landscape genetics analyses using populations of the Mississippi slimy salamander (Plethodon mississippi) in Mississippi and Alabama. Regional replication revealed the importance of habitat configuration on the relationship between land use and gene flow among salamander populations and the transferability of landscape genetics inferences to neighboring areas. Analysis of hierarchically nested datasets of different sampling densities and study area sizes identified differences due to study area size however no clear effect was seen as a result of different sampling densities. Conservation practitioners can also use microbial ecology to better understand the relationship between wildlife species and their environment. The mutualistic relationship between amphibians and their cutaneous microbial community can strengthen the amphibian’s ability to fight fungal pathogens. However in order to inform management strategies such as probiotic inoculation researchers must first understand the method in which amphibian cutaneous microbiomes are shaped. I compared salamander relatedness salamander cutaneous microbiomes and the microbiomes of salamanders’ immediate soil environment which revealed no relationship between kinship and similarity of skin microbiomes. Further comparison of skin and soil microbiomes provided evidence that the presence of antifungal taxa in a salamander’s environment does not guarantee incorporation of the taxa into salamander cutaneous microbiomes. The results of this research fill knowledge gaps within the fields of landscape genetics and amphibian cutaneous microbial ecology and provide a greater understanding of the relationship between P. mississippi and its environment.
Burgess, Stephanie Marie, "Application and refinement of molecular ecology techniques for amphibian conservation" (2019). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1956.