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Mol Ecol. 2018 Jun;27(11):2512-2528. doi: 10.1111/mec.14701. Epub 2018 May 15.

Adaptive population divergence and directional gene flow across steep elevational gradients in a climate-sensitive mammal.

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Department of Biology, University of British Columbia, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.
Departments of Biology and Environmental Studies, Warren Wilson College, Asheville, North Carolina.
U.S. Geological Survey, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, Bozeman, Montana.
Department of Ecology, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana.


The ecological effects of climate change have been shown in most major taxonomic groups; however, the evolutionary consequences are less well-documented. Adaptation to new climatic conditions offers a potential long-term mechanism for species to maintain viability in rapidly changing environments, but mammalian examples remain scarce. The American pika (Ochotona princeps) has been impacted by recent climate-associated extirpations and range-wide reductions in population sizes, establishing it as a sentinel mammalian species for climate change. To investigate evidence for local adaptation and reconstruct patterns of genomic diversity and gene flow across rapidly changing environments, we used a space-for-time design and restriction site-associated DNA sequencing to genotype American pikas along two steep elevational gradients at 30,966 SNPs and employed independent outlier detection methods that scanned for genotype-environment associations. We identified 338 outlier SNPs detected by two separate analyses and/or replicated in both transects, several of which were annotated to genes involved in metabolic function and oxygen transport. Additionally, we found evidence of directional gene flow primarily downslope from high-elevation populations, along with reduced gene flow at outlier loci. If this trend continues, elevational range contractions in American pikas will likely be from local extirpation rather than upward movement of low-elevation individuals; this, in turn, could limit the potential for adaptation within this landscape. These findings are of particular relevance for future conservation and management of American pikas and other elevationally restricted, thermally sensitive species.


American pika; RADseq; climate change; directional migration; elevational gradient; genotype-environment association; space-for-time design; thermal stress


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