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The challenges of detecting subtle population structure and its importance for the conservation of emperor penguins

The challenges of detecting subtle population structure and its importance for the conservation of emperor penguins
The challenges of detecting subtle population structure and its importance for the conservation of emperor penguins

Understanding the boundaries of breeding populations is of great importance for conservation efforts and estimates of extinction risk for threatened species. However, determining these boundaries can be difficult when population structure is subtle. Emperor penguins are highly reliant on sea ice, and some populations may be in jeopardy as climate change alters sea-ice extent and quality. An understanding of emperor penguin population structure is therefore urgently needed. Two previous studies have differed in their conclusions, particularly whether the Ross Sea, a major stronghold for the species, is isolated or not. We assessed emperor penguin population structure using 4,596 genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), characterized in 110 individuals (10–16 per colony) from eight colonies around Antarctica. In contrast to a previous conclusion that emperor penguins are panmictic around the entire continent, we find that emperor penguins comprise at least four metapopulations, and that the Ross Sea is clearly a distinct metapopulation. Using larger sample sizes and a thorough assessment of the limitations of different analytical methods, we have shown that population structure within emperor penguins does exist and argue that its recognition is vital for the effective conservation of the species. We discuss the many difficulties that molecular ecologists and managers face in the detection and interpretation of subtle population structure using large SNP data sets, and argue that subtle structure should be taken into account when determining management strategies for threatened species, until accurate estimates of demographic connectivity among populations can be made.

Antarctica, dispersal, population genomics, RAD-seq, Ross Sea, Southern Ocean
0962-1083
3883-3897
Younger, Jane L.
deea6329-2600-4dfa-a47e-8ac1dd2010e1
Clucas, Gemma V.
01c99eb2-5dbb-4f55-847c-1283065b40e1
Kao, Damian
56c3666c-222c-4d19-98b3-958d3fecc0bd
Rogers, Alex D.
fb474198-f059-48f7-b637-74617b5023f6
Gharbi, Karim
9715391a-8b72-4075-9ca3-3176f5c66b09
Hart, Tom
de3eadf1-5833-4bdd-ba26-c608ed0eb206
Miller, Karen J.
1373f20a-8197-4354-9dd0-ccbcd8e0744d
Younger, Jane L.
deea6329-2600-4dfa-a47e-8ac1dd2010e1
Clucas, Gemma V.
01c99eb2-5dbb-4f55-847c-1283065b40e1
Kao, Damian
56c3666c-222c-4d19-98b3-958d3fecc0bd
Rogers, Alex D.
fb474198-f059-48f7-b637-74617b5023f6
Gharbi, Karim
9715391a-8b72-4075-9ca3-3176f5c66b09
Hart, Tom
de3eadf1-5833-4bdd-ba26-c608ed0eb206
Miller, Karen J.
1373f20a-8197-4354-9dd0-ccbcd8e0744d

Younger, Jane L., Clucas, Gemma V., Kao, Damian, Rogers, Alex D., Gharbi, Karim, Hart, Tom and Miller, Karen J. (2017) The challenges of detecting subtle population structure and its importance for the conservation of emperor penguins. Molecular Ecology, 26 (15), 3883-3897. (doi:10.1111/mec.14172).

Record type: Article

Abstract

Understanding the boundaries of breeding populations is of great importance for conservation efforts and estimates of extinction risk for threatened species. However, determining these boundaries can be difficult when population structure is subtle. Emperor penguins are highly reliant on sea ice, and some populations may be in jeopardy as climate change alters sea-ice extent and quality. An understanding of emperor penguin population structure is therefore urgently needed. Two previous studies have differed in their conclusions, particularly whether the Ross Sea, a major stronghold for the species, is isolated or not. We assessed emperor penguin population structure using 4,596 genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), characterized in 110 individuals (10–16 per colony) from eight colonies around Antarctica. In contrast to a previous conclusion that emperor penguins are panmictic around the entire continent, we find that emperor penguins comprise at least four metapopulations, and that the Ross Sea is clearly a distinct metapopulation. Using larger sample sizes and a thorough assessment of the limitations of different analytical methods, we have shown that population structure within emperor penguins does exist and argue that its recognition is vital for the effective conservation of the species. We discuss the many difficulties that molecular ecologists and managers face in the detection and interpretation of subtle population structure using large SNP data sets, and argue that subtle structure should be taken into account when determining management strategies for threatened species, until accurate estimates of demographic connectivity among populations can be made.

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More information

Accepted/In Press date: 24 April 2017
e-pub ahead of print date: 6 June 2017
Published date: August 2017
Keywords: Antarctica, dispersal, population genomics, RAD-seq, Ross Sea, Southern Ocean

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 448924
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/448924
ISSN: 0962-1083
PURE UUID: 6cd5387a-e5aa-413a-8ea8-febe7c7bbbdf
ORCID for Gemma V. Clucas: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-4305-1719

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 10 May 2021 16:33
Last modified: 08 Jan 2022 11:14

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Contributors

Author: Jane L. Younger
Author: Gemma V. Clucas ORCID iD
Author: Damian Kao
Author: Alex D. Rogers
Author: Karim Gharbi
Author: Tom Hart
Author: Karen J. Miller

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