Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Comparative Evaluation of Effective Population Size Genetic Estimation Methods in Wild Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) Populations
Effective population size (Ne) is a key concept in population genetics, evolutionary biology and conservation biology that describes an important facet of genetic diversity and the capacity of populations to respond to future evolutionary pressures. The importance of Ne in management and conservation of wild populations encouraged the development of numerous genetic estimators which rely on a variety of methods. Despite the number and diversity of available Ne methods, however, tests of estimator performance have largely relied on simulations, with relatively few tests based on empirical data. I used well-studied wild populations of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) in Algonquin Park, Ontario as a model system to assess the comparative performance of multiple Ne estimation methods and programs, comparing the resultant Ne estimates against demographic population size estimates. As a first step, the genetic diversity and ancestry of wild brook trout populations was determined using 14 microsatellite loci. Genetic structure of brook trout populations showed variable contributions from historical supplemental stocking and also identified localized gene pools within and between watersheds, reflecting variable levels of connectivity and gene flow. Once the genetic ancestry and connectivity of populations had been resolved, single sample (point) and two samples (temporal) genetic estimators were used to estimate Ne of populations with pure native ancestry. Values obtained from genetic estimators utilizing both methods were variable within as well as among populations. Single sample (point) estimators were variable within individual populations, but substantially less than was observed among the temporal methods. The ratios of Ne to the estimated demographic population size (N) in small populations were substantially higher than in larger populations. Variation among estimates obtained from the different methods reflects varying assumptions that underlay the estimation algorithms. This research further investigated the effect of sampling effort and number of microsatellite loci used on Ne values obtained using the linkage disequilibrium (LD) estimation method. Ne estimates varied substantially among values generated from subsets of loci and genotyped individuals, highlighting the necessity for proper sampling design for efforts aiming to measure Ne. Despite the variation observed among and within estimation methods, the Ne concept is a valuable for the conservation and management of both exploited and endangered species. Author Keywords: Brook Trout, Effective population size, Genetic Diversity, Genetic Structure

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