Data from: Can physiographic regions substitute for genetically-determined conservation units? A case study with the threatened plant, Silene spaldingii
Lesica, Peter; Adams, Brice; Smith, Christian T. (2017), Data from: Can physiographic regions substitute for genetically-determined conservation units? A case study with the threatened plant, Silene spaldingii, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.g8r7t
Protecting genetic diversity throughout the range of a species is important for conservation, as doing so provides for long-term evolutionary potential and persistence under a changing environment. Conservation of diversity at the intraspecific level requires identification of all genetically distinct population segments within species; i.e., conservation units (CUs). Silene spaldingii occurs in grasslands of the Columbia Plateau region of western North America and is listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The recovery plan identified five physiographic regions across the range of the species to use as surrogates for genetic CUs. We collected leaf samples from an average of 26 plants from each of 19 of the largest populations across all five physiographic regions and used variable microsatellite and chloroplast DNA markers to determine how genetic variation is distributed across the range of the species and how well physiographic regions reflect population structure within this species. Results of several multivariate analyses clustered our samples into four genetic groups which did not correspond well with the physiographic regions. We observed little genetic differentiation among populations in the main range of the species which encompasses nearly all of four contiguous physiographic regions. However, three other distinct genetic groups were identified: two in the disjunct northeast corner and one at the southeast edge of the main range. Modification of the CUs to reflect the genetic groups rather than the physiographic regions would result in CUs which better reflect historical patterns of population structure. Moreover, use of the genetic units to inform translocation and genetic rescue efforts could improve our ability to mimic natural patterns of gene flow. Our results suggest that physiographic regions may not always be an accurate reflection of population structure for threatened or endangered species.