How does environmental heterogeneity affect the movement of organisms across the landscape and the spatial distribution of genetic variation?
Geographic and environmental features of the landscape, such as barriers and habitat discontinuity, can structure genetic variation at the individual and population levels via their effect on dispersal and gene flow. Landscape genetics offers an interdisciplinary approach for relating spatial genetic patterns to the effects of environmental heterogeneity on the movement of organisms.
Project 1: Landscape Genetics across spatial scales
Our work has shown the scale-dependent effect of the landscape on gene flow and population structure in bats. We found that across the range of the grey long-eared bat, Plecotus austriacus, connectivity is limited by broad-scale patterns of habitat suitability, while at finer spatial scales, land cover variables played a more important role. Connectivity in the fragmented UK population, at the northern edge of the grey long-eared bat range, was limited by distance to its main foraging habitat, unimproved grasslands (meadows).
Project 2: Ecological connectivity in sky island bats of the Ethiopian Highlands
Funder: British Ecological Society
Tropical highland ecosystems are highly sensitive to global change, especially in under-studied areas like Ethiopia that are threatened by extensive anthropogenic habitat loss and degradation. With our Ethiopian, Spanish and Portuguese collaborators we are studying how these sky islands and the intervening landscape matrix shape the genetic diversity and distribution of their unique fauna, focusing on the little known diversity of the Ethiopian Highlands’ Plecotus bat community.
Project 3: Predictive Landscape Genetics
Future climate change is predicted to result in major shifts in the distribution of species, and therefore identifying factors that facilitate movement and genetic connectivity among populations is a major challenge for conservation. We use landscape genetics as a predictive tool to assess how species will shift their ranges to track changes in climatic suitability and inform conservation measures that will facilitate movement.