Value of sample information in dynamic, structurally uncertain resource systems.
ABSTRACT: Few if any natural resource systems are completely understood and fully observed. Instead, there almost always is uncertainty about the way a system works and its status at any given time, which can limit effective management. A natural approach to uncertainty is to allocate time and effort to the collection of additional data, on the reasonable assumption that more information will facilitate better understanding and lead to better management. But the collection of more data, either through observation or investigation, requires time and effort that often can be put to other conservation activities. An important question is whether the use of limited resources to improve understanding is justified by the resulting potential for improved management. In this paper we address directly a change in value from new information collected through investigation. We frame the value of information in terms of learning through the management process itself, as well as learning through investigations that are external to the management process but add to our base of understanding. We provide a conceptual framework and metrics for this issue, and illustrate them with examples involving Florida scrub-jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens).
Project description:A central goal of population genetics is to understand how genetic drift, natural selection, and gene flow shape allele frequencies through time. However, the actual processes underlying these changes-variation in individual survival, reproductive success, and movement-are often difficult to quantify. Fully understanding these processes requires the population pedigree, the set of relationships among all individuals in the population through time. Here, we use extensive pedigree and genomic information from a long-studied natural population of Florida Scrub-Jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) to directly characterize the relative roles of different evolutionary processes in shaping patterns of genetic variation through time. We performed gene dropping simulations to estimate individual genetic contributions to the population and model drift on the known pedigree. We found that observed allele frequency changes are generally well predicted by accounting for the different genetic contributions of founders. Our results show that the genetic contribution of recent immigrants is substantial, with some large allele frequency shifts that otherwise may have been attributed to selection actually due to gene flow. We identified a few SNPs under directional short-term selection after appropriately accounting for gene flow. Using models that account for changes in population size, we partitioned the proportion of variance in allele frequency change through time. Observed allele frequency changes are primarily due to variation in survival and reproductive success, with gene flow making a smaller contribution. This study provides one of the most complete descriptions of short-term evolutionary change in allele frequencies in a natural population to date.
Project description:Understanding the genomic consequences of population decline is important for predicting species' vulnerability to intensifying global change. Empirical information about genomic changes in populations in the early stages of decline, especially for those still experiencing immigration, remains scarce. We used 7834 autosomal SNPs and demographic data for 288 Florida scrub jays (<i>Aphelocoma coerulescens</i>; FSJ) sampled in 2000 and 2008 to compare levels of genetic diversity, inbreeding, relatedness, and lengths of runs of homozygosity (ROH) between two subpopulations within dispersal distance of one another but have experienced contrasting demographic trajectories. At Archbold Biological Station (ABS), the FSJ population has been stable because of consistent habitat protection and management, while at nearby Placid Lakes Estates (PLE), the population declined precipitously due to suburban development. By the onset of our sampling in 2000, birds in PLE were already less heterozygous, more inbred, and on average more related than birds in ABS. No significant changes occurred in heterozygosity or inbreeding across the 8-year sampling interval, but average relatedness among individuals decreased in PLE, thus by 2008 average relatedness did not differ between sites. PLE harbored a similar proportion of short ROH but a greater proportion of long ROH than ABS, suggesting one continuous population of shared demographic history in the past, which is now experiencing more recent inbreeding. These results broadly uphold the predictions of simple population genetic models based on inferred effective population sizes and rates of immigration. Our study highlights how, in just a few generations, formerly continuous populations can diverge in heterozygosity and levels of inbreeding with severe local population decline despite ongoing gene flow.
Project description:To explore the evolutionary dynamics of genes in the major histocompatibility complex (Mhc) in nonmammalian vertebrates, we have amplified complete sequences of the polymorphic second (beta1) and third (beta2) exons of class II beta chain genes of songbirds. The pattern of nucleotide substitution in the antigen-binding site of sequences cloned from three behaviorally and phylogenetically divergent songbirds [scrub jays Aphelocoma coerulescens), red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), and house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) reveals that class II B genes of songbirds are subject to the same types of diversifying forces as those observed at mammalian class II loci. By contrast, the tree of avian class II B genes reveals that orthologous relationships have not been retained as in placental mammals and that, unlike class II genes in mammals, genes in songbirds and chickens have had very recent common ancestors within their respective groups. Thus, whereas the selective forces diversifying class II B genes of birds are likely similar to those in mammals, their long-term evolutionary dynamics appear to be characterized by much higher rates of concerted evolution.
Project description:Understanding the population genetic consequences of declining population size is important for conserving the many species worldwide facing severe decline . Thorough empirical studies on the impacts of population reduction at a genome-wide scale in the wild are scarce because they demand huge field and laboratory investments [1, 2]. Previous studies have demonstrated the importance of gene flow in introducing genetic variation to small populations , but few have documented both genetic and fitness consequences of decreased immigration through time in a natural population [4-6]. Here we assess temporal variation in gene flow, inbreeding, and fitness using longitudinal genomic, demographic, and phenotypic data from a long-studied population of federally Threatened Florida scrub-jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens). We exhaustively sampled and genotyped the study population over two decades, providing one of the most detailed longitudinal investigations of genetics in a wild animal population to date. Immigrants were less heterozygous than residents but still introduced genetic variation into our study population. Owing to regional population declines, immigration into the study population declined from 1995-2013, resulting in increased levels of inbreeding and reduced fitness via inbreeding depression, even as the population remained demographically stable. Our results show that, contrary to conventional wisdom, small peripheral populations that already have undergone a genetic bottleneck may play a vital role in preserving genetic diversity of larger and seemingly stable populations. These findings underscore the importance of investing in the persistence of small populations and maintaining population connectivity in conservation of fragmented species.
Project description:Niche expansion can lead to adaptive differentiation and speciation, but there are few examples from contemporary niche expansions about how this process is initiated. We assess the consequences of a niche expansion by Mexican jays (Aphelocoma ultramarina) along an elevation gradient. We predicted that jays at high elevation would have straighter bills adapted to feeding on pine cones, whereas jays at low elevation would have hooked bills adapted to feeding on acorns. We measured morphological and genetic variation of 95 adult jays and found significant differences in hook length between elevations in accordance with predictions, a pattern corroborated by analysis at the regional scale. Genetic results from microsatellite and mtDNA variation support phenotypic differentiation in the presence of gene flow coupled with weak, but detectable genetic differentiation between high- and low-elevation populations. These results demonstrate that niche expansion can lead to adaptive divergence despite gene flow between parapatric populations along an elevation gradient, providing information on a key precursor to ecological speciation.
Project description:Exploration is among one of the most studied of animal personality traits (i.e., individual-level behavioural responses repeatable across time and contexts). However, not all species show clear evidence of this personality trait, and this is particularly so for members of the Corvidae family. We assessed the exploratory behaviour of four food-caching corvid species: pinyon jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus), Clark's nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana), California scrub jays (Aphelocoma californica), and black-billed magpies (Pica hudsonia). Contextual repeatability was assessed through examining behavioural measures during the Novel Environment task and the Novel Object task, whereas temporal repeatability was assessed by examining changes in these measures over repeated trials. Our results suggest that, for corvids, an individual's exploratory behaviour was not repeatable across contexts or over time. Hence, we found no evidence that exploration constitutes a personality trait for these species of corvid. We did find differences in exploratory behaviour, at a species level, that may be explained by relative reliance on cached food.
Project description:Western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) live double lives, storing food for the future while raiding the stores of other birds. One tactic scrub-jays employ to protect stores is "re-caching"-relocating caches out of sight of would-be thieves. Recent computational modelling work suggests that re-caching might be mediated not by complex cognition, but by a combination of memory failure and stress. The "Stress Model" asserts that re-caching is a manifestation of a general drive to cache, rather than a desire to protect existing stores. Here, we present evidence strongly contradicting the central assumption of these models: that stress drives caching, irrespective of social context. In Experiment (i), we replicate the finding that scrub-jays preferentially relocate food they were watched hiding. In Experiment (ii) we find no evidence that stress increases caching. In light of our results, we argue that the Stress Model cannot account for scrub-jay re-caching.
Project description:String-pulling is a widely used paradigm in animal cognition research to assess what animals understand about the functionality of strings as a means to obtain an out-of-reach reward. This study aimed to systematically investigate what rules Western scrub-jays (Aphelocoma californica) use to solve different patterned string tasks, i.e. tasks in which subjects have to choose between two or more strings of which only one is connected to the reward, or where one is more efficient. Arranging strings in a parallel configuration showed that the jays were generally capable of solving multiple-string tasks and acted in a goal-directed manner. The slanted and crossed configurations revealed a reliance on a "proximity rule", that is, a tendency to choose the string-end closest to the reward. When confronted with strings of different lengths attached to rewards at different distances the birds chose according to the reward distance, preferring the reward closest to them, and were sensitive to the movement of the reward, but did not consistently prefer the shorter and therefore more efficient string. Generally, the scrub-jays were successful in tasks where the reward was closest to the string-ends they needed to pull or when string length and reward distance correlated, but the birds had problems when the wrong string-end was closest to the reward or when the food items were in close proximity to each other. These results show that scrub-jays had a partial understanding of the physical principles underlying string-pulling but relied on simpler strategies such as the proximity rule to solve the tasks.