From genes to species: Characterizing spatial and temporal variation in frog and toad multidimensional biodiversity

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Virginia Tech


Biodiversity is a complex concept encapsulating the variation that occurs within and among levels of biological organization. It is positively linked to ecosystem persistence, adaptability, and function. Biodiversity loss, driven by global change and human activities, is one of the most prominent threats to ecosystems. Characterizing the variation of and processes driving biodiversity is a critical step in understanding the causes, consequences, and magnitude of biodiversity loss. However, characterizing biodiversity comprehensively requires understanding multiple dimensions, or types, of diversity, such as genetic, taxonomic, phylogenetic, and life history diversity, that encompass both ecological and evolutionary processes varying across space and time. In this dissertation, I investigate spatial and temporal variation in frog and toad (order Anura) biodiversity to understand the effects of how diversity is measured on biodiversity characterization and the underlying processes driving biodiversity. In my first chapter, I examined the spatial and temporal variation of genetic diversity and other population genetic metrics to understand the effects of multi-year sampling on population genetic inference in an anuran metapopulation (Arizona treefrog, Hyla (Dryophytes) wrightorum). I found that a single sample year captures global, but not local, population genetic dynamics, as there is considerable temporal variation in genetic metrics within individual populations. In my second chapter, I developed a tool to improve the characterization of anuran life history diversity using species traits. Traits are the measurable attributes of species, and a suite of species traits is used to distinguish ecological strategies found among species. I collated trait data from 411 primary and secondary sources for 106 anuran species found in the United States to develop an anuran traits database for use in conservation, management, and research. In my third chapter, I investigated spatial variation within and among taxonomic, phylogenetic, and life history anuran diversity in the United States and examined the abiotic relationships behind observed patterns. To do this, I developed species distribution models at a 1 km2 resolution for the majority of the native US anurans. I identified relationships among diversity metrics for improved, comprehensive biodiversity characterization and potential ecological and evolutionary processes underlying biodiversity. Spatial variation in multidimensional relationships highlights regional needs for multiple metrics of diversity to comprehensively characterize biodiversity. This spatial variation is driven by temperature, elevation, and water availability, likely related to the biological limits for anurans. Collectively, these chapters highlight the considerable variation that exists within and among species of a broad and diverse biological. Furthermore, these chapters call attention to the importance of measuring multiple biodiversity dimensions for effective conservation in a rapidly changing world.



amphibians, genetic diversity, effective population size, metapopulation, traits, life history diversity, phylogenetic diversity, species richness