Can genomic tools aid conservation of an arctic seabird, the northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)?

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Colston-Nepali, Lila
conservation , genomics , seabirds , arctic , population genetics , population assignment
Human activities and climate change threaten Arctic ecosystems. Population genetics and genomics may help conservationists appropriately manage threatened species both by (1) determining the population genetic structure of a species, so that management can be designed to maximize conservation of genetic variation, and (2) enabling assessment of impacts on breeding populations of mortality during the nonbreeding season in migratory species. The northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) is a seabird that breeds in colonies throughout the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Though not currently considered at risk, several concerns, such as increased levels of toxins and ingested plastics, warrant investigation to aid conservation of northern fulmars. Up to 1% of the global population is killed annually through unintentional capture in commercial fishing activities, and northern fulmar survival appears to be negatively affected by climate change. As northern fulmars are migratory, the impact of these mortality sources on specific colonies is often unknown but may be important to inform management strategies. In this thesis, I use restriction site-associated DNA sequencing (RADseq) to provide 6614 genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to investigate the genetic structure of the Atlantic northern fulmar, using 127 samples from six breeding colonies, one non-breeding location, and fishing activities in the Baffin Bay-Davis Strait region. I found weak genetic differentiation and suggest that Atlantic northern fulmar populations are genetically connected, experiencing high levels of gene flow. Determining the exact breeding origin of the bycatch birds was difficult due to the lack of differentiation between colonies. However, the birds appear to be from Arctic Canadian colonies, suggesting that the impact of the fisheries is on local colonies, and may be contributing to the 3% annual decline that has been observed at these locations.
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