Integrating genetics into marine conservation planning in South Africa

Nielsen, Erica Spotswood (2017-03)

Thesis (MSc)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The mounting threats to biodiversity and global alteration of habitat and species distributions make it increasingly necessary to consider evolutionary patterns in conservation decision-making. Yet there is no clear-cut guidance on how genetic features can be incorporated into conservation planning processes, with several genetic metrics with different ecological and evolutionary relevance to choose from. Genetic patterns also differ between species, but the potential trade-offs amongst different genetic objectives for multiple species in conservation planning are currently understudied. Therefore, the first chapter of this thesis compares spatial conservation prioritizations derived from two metrics of both genetic diversity (nucleotide and haplotype diversity) and genetic isolation (private haplotypes and local genetic differentiation) for five marine species. The results from Chapter One show that conservation plans based solely on habitat representation noticeably differ from those additionally including genetic data, and that all four genetic metrics select similar conservation priority areas. The second chapter builds on the findings of Chapter One by comparing conservation solutions from three marker types (mitochondrial DNA, neutral nuclear DNA, and adaptive nuclear DNA) for the two most genetically distinct species from the multi-species data set. Next generation sequencing was used to identify single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) variation in both the Cape urchin (P. angulosus) and the Granular limpet (S. granularis), both of which showed high levels of genomic diversity and signals of adaptation to local ecotypes. When comparing the genetic variation between the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and SNP markers within a spatial conservation framework, the solutions show a wide range of spatial priorities, yet the spatial similarities between the different marker types are not consistent across the different species approaches. Largely, the findings from this project suggest that selected species and genetic marker(s) chosen will alter all conservation solutions. Importantly, increasing the amount of genetic information leads to more distinct conservation priorities, resulting in a clearer picture of community-level evolutionary hotspots within the planning region.

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