Population Structure Research Using Genomics and Genetics

Peter Muennich

Population Structure Research Using Genomics and Genetics
By :: Jesse Wolf

I was lucky enough to receive a grant from the Rocky Mountain Goat Alliance to support my research allowing me to travel to complete field work related to a mountain goat project in northwestern British Columbia. Having recently returned from the field work in August 2019, I thought it appropriate to send a short report of what we were able to achieve. We are extremely grateful for the funding received, without it these field travels would not have been possible.

The field work allowed us to perform additional analyses and expand the dataset that I will produce for my thesis. Generally, my research focusses on using genetics and genomics to characterize population structure of mountain goats in northern British Columbia to inform population management efforts. We use fecal pellet samples to describe population genetic structure, as well as to access the microbial composition of each individual mountain goats’ gut. This allows us to use a relatively non-invasive sample approach which can provide a wealth of information regarding the health of a given individual and population(s), as well as gene flow between populations and the resulting population structure.

Field work took place near Smithers, British Columbia and over the course of 5 days we were able to collect 24 fecal sample, of which we have been able to generate genotype and microbiome data. This allowed us to evaluate population genetic structure on a fine scale and assess the relative amount of gene flow between individual mountain ranges separated by minimal geographic divides.

This contrasts the broad-scale analyses of our study that encompasses the majority of northern British Columbia mountain goats and adds an additional layer of knowledge regarding of mountain goats in northern B.C. Overall, this general approach allows us to make specific management recommendations using non-invasive sampling, which is particularly useful when working with a difficult to access species such as the mountain goat.

Our preliminary findings are that the majority of northern BC is largely panmictic, meaning that individuals are randomly mating, and there is gene flow between mountain ranges. Through the RMGA funding, we were able to access helicopter time to reach the remote areas of the study area and perform the lab work necessary to analyze the samples.

The RMGA contribution to my study was extremely helpful in allowing me to perform fine-scale analyses on population genetic structure, which also contributed to the larger database of mountain goat samples in northern British Columbia. Additionally, it allowed us to evaluate seasonal differences in the gut microbiome, between samples collected during collaring (winter 2018) and the summer 2019 field work, something that has not been heavily explored in mountain goats. Thank you immensely for helping fund this work.


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