Combining Genetics and Environmental Analysis to Assess Conservation Options for Eastern Hemlock
Because some tree species ranges span large regions, they show variations in their behavior (e.g., timing of spring bud burst) and morphology (e.g., leaf shape), due to environmental differences. These within-species variations have developed over long periods of time and hence imprinted in their genetic signature resulting in different evolutionary lineages. Eastern hemlock genetic clusters, previously derived from molecular markers, were subdivided into four genetic zones: the northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast. These genetic zones, which represent putative evolutionary lineages, were used to understand ecological and genetic differences using environmental and demographic data. Current and future habitat suitability and colonization potential of these genetic zones were modelled. The results show that future habitats decline markedly, with areas of relatively higher habitat quality and colonization potential confined to the southeast, the genetic zone nearest the species' putative glacial refugia. The southeast zone is also the region of highest HWA induced mortality, pointing to the need to focus our conservation efforts on this ecologically and genetically important region.
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