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Combining Genetics and Environmental Analysis to Assess Conservation Options for Eastern Hemlock

Photo of Hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), Ovisacs on the underside of a branch. Michael Montgomery, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), Ovisacs on the underside of a branch. Michael Montgomery, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : Eastern hemlock is currently facing a dual threat by the invasive insect hemlock wooly adelgid and anthropogenic climate change. Combining genetic information with distribution models under climate change helps better understand options for the conservation of this imperiled species.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Prasad, Anantha M.  
Research Location : Eastern United States
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 986

Summary

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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