Implications of recurrent disturbance for genetic diversity

Ian D. Davies, Geoffrey J. Cary, Erin L. Landguth, David B. Lindenmayer, Sam C. Banks

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Abstract

Exploring interactions between ecological disturbance, species' abundances and community composition provides critical insights for ecological dynamics. While disturbance is also potentially an important driver of landscape genetic patterns, the mechanisms by which these patterns may arise by selective and neutral processes are not well-understood. We used simulation to evaluate the relative importance of disturbance regime components, and their interaction with demographic and dispersal processes, on the distribution of genetic diversity across landscapes. We investigated genetic impacts of variation in key components of disturbance regimes and spatial patterns that are likely to respond to climate change and land management, including disturbance size, frequency, and severity. The influence of disturbance was mediated by dispersal distance and, to a limited extent, by birth rate. Nevertheless, all three disturbance regime components strongly influenced spatial and temporal patterns of genetic diversity within subpopulations, and were associated with changes in genetic structure. Furthermore, disturbance-induced changes in temporal population dynamics and the spatial distribution of populations across the landscape resulted in disrupted isolation by distance patterns among populations. Our results show that forecast changes in disturbance regimes have the potential to cause major changes to the distribution of genetic diversity within and among populations. We highlight likely scenarios under which future changes to disturbance size, severity, or frequency will have the strongest impacts on population genetic patterns. In addition, our results have implications for the inference of biological processes from genetic data, because the effects of dispersal on genetic patterns were strongly mediated by disturbance regimes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1181-1196
Number of pages16
JournalEcology and Evolution
Volume6
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes

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