|Continent||Central and Latin America|
|Date||25 Feb 2008|
Habitat loss and fragmentation are important and recurrent issues in conservation biology. It is known that diverse populations are better able to resist environmental variation and disease outbreaks. For small and isolated subpopulations random events become more important because there is less random mating and less migration. This results in a reduction in the number of heterozygotes and a higher probability of allele fixation. Thus, the chances of surviving stochastic environmental changes become more difficult and the extinction risk higher for the small populations.
The Guantiva - La Rusia – Iguaque "conservation corridor" is a large area dominated by Quercus humboldtii Bonpl. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) recognizes it as a strategic area for Q. humboldtii ecosystem conservation. It was designated "conservation corridor" by the Fundación Natura of Colombia as a protection space where they have been developing different biological and social research programs for at least twelve years. The main focus has been on oak ecosystem conservation, rather than efforts to connect the subpopulations via true "corridors".
My research aim is to identify relationships between genetic diversity and landscape features of Q. humboldtii populations in order to suggest strategies for its protection. By using both Geographical Information System (GIS) tools and molecular genetic analyses it will be possible to provide detailed information about the population structure and to identify the historical impact of the landscape changes on the genetic structure. It then will be possible to propose regions to maintain the connectivity within the species in order to foster population size increases, reduce inbreeding depression, and to promote gene flow by connecting isolated subpopulations.
I will also integrate my study of genetic diversity of Q. humboldtii in the Guantiva - La Rusia – Iguaque "conservation corridor" with analyses of other Colombian oak populations (map 1) to investigate larger patterns of landscape characteristics, genetic structure, and gene flow within and between Q. humboldtii populations. I will be testing if fragmentation has had a negative effect on the genetic diversity of the population, if subpopulations that are near to one another have more similar genetic structure than ones that are far apart, and finally, if there is higher genetic diversity in larger and connected subpopulations than in small and isolated subpopulations.
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