Date of Award

8-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Benjamin M. Fitzpatrick

Committee Members

James A. Fordyce, Elisabeth E. Schussler, Joseph D. Clark

Abstract

Unprecedented declines in biodiversity are threatening the natural world as we know it. Without human intervention, two thousand species listed under the US Endangered Species Act are likely to disappear. Fortunately, these species receive federal protection and increased research effort is needed to create and satisfy the objectives outlined in the mandated Species Recovery Plan. In this dissertation, I address three conservation objectives outlined in the Recovery Plan for North America’s smallest and rarest turtle, the Bog Turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii): (1) investigate the potential genetic differentiation in southern portions of the species’ range, (2) investigate the genetic impacts of reintroduction, and (3) develop an effective conservation education program. Using SNP markers generated from a novel next generation sequencing technique, I determined that genetic differentiation in the south is largely a function of geographic distance, but State-designated management units may still be suitable in practice. Some populations have relatively low genetic diversity and an effective population size substantially lower than the assumed census size, suggesting that management decisions based on census size may be inappropriate. I also detected statistical patterns consistent with local adaptation, suggesting potential outbreeding depression risk associated with proposed translocations. And for a translocation program previously implemented, I observed an increase in gene diversity, but noted that the increase was less than expected assuming an equal admixture of source populations. Lastly, I explicitly compared the engagement and learning outcomes associated with teaching conservation concepts within a classroom setting. I found no evidence that verbal questioning, clicker, and worksheet active learning strategies affected student engagement and learning, but learning outcomes may differ based on content (topic and example organism used). These findings will inform the development of an education program that will aid Bog Turtle conservation, a species vulnerable to illegal poaching, and hence limited in regards to outreach opportunities. Here I demonstrate how a combination of information from the fields of genetics and education were necessary to address Bog Turtle Recovery Plan objectives, but information from a variety of additional fields will be necessary for Bog Turtle conservation and for the rescue of our other imperiled species.

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