This week, we welcome our own Alyson Van Natto.
Abstract: A species’ genetic structure results from interactions between genetic drift, natural selection and gene flow and, therefore, strongly depends on the species’ spatial distribution and can have a profound influence on the management of species at-risk. I will discuss two factors that may influence range wide genetic structure in the endangered coastal dune species Abronia umbellata; peripherality and hybridization. On one hand, peripheral populations may have low genetic variation, low fitness and be prone to extinction. Alternatively, they might be adapted to extreme range-edge environments and thus well-poised for range expansion during climate change, increasing their conservation value. This is extremely relevant to Canadian conservation where ~90% of “at-risk” species are at their northern range limit in southern Canada but much more common to the south. Hybridization from a closely related congener could provide beneficial alleles needed for adaptation to habitats beyond the range or result in demographic swamping, eliminating the rarer species. Hybridization could play an important role in a species’ genetic structure, but it is rarely studied in a single species across its entire range. The results from our study will contribute to the recovery strategy of this precarious species and help us move towards biologically informed strategies for managing species at-risk in Canada.