Genomics-informed conservation units reveal spatial variation in climate vulnerability in a migratory bird

Caitlin V. Miller, Christen M. Bossu, James F. Sarraco, David P.L. Toews, Clark S. Rushing, Amélie Roberto-Charron, Junior A. Tremblay, Richard B. Chandler, Matthew G. DeSaix, Cameron J. Fiss, Jeff L. Larkin, Samuel Haché, Silke Nebel, Kristen C. Ruegg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Identifying genetic conservation units (CUs) in threatened species is critical for the preservation of adaptive capacity and evolutionary potential in the face of climate change. However, delineating CUs in highly mobile species remains a challenge due to high rates of gene flow and genetic signatures of isolation by distance. Even when CUs are delineated in highly mobile species, the CUs often lack key biological information about what populations have the most conservation need to guide management decisions. Here we implement a framework for CU identification in the Canada Warbler (Cardellina canadensis), a migratory bird species of conservation concern, and then integrate demographic modelling and genomic offset to guide conservation decisions. We find that patterns of whole genome genetic variation in this highly mobile species are primarily driven by putative adaptive variation. Identification of CUs across the breeding range revealed that Canada Warblers fall into two evolutionarily significant units (ESU), and three putative adaptive units (AUs) in the South, East, and Northwest. Quantification of genomic offset, a metric of genetic changes necessary to maintain current gene–environment relationships, revealed significant spatial variation in climate vulnerability, with the Northwestern AU being identified as the most vulnerable to future climate change. Alternatively, quantification of past population trends within each AU revealed the steepest population declines have occurred within the Eastern AU. Overall, we illustrate that genomics-informed CUs provide a strong foundation for identifying current and future regional threats that can be used to inform management strategies for a highly mobile species in a rapidly changing world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere17199
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics

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