Hyla -- Florida -- Genetics, Hyla -- Georgia -- Genetics, Hyla -- Habitat -- Florida, Hyla -- Habitat -- Georgia, Population genetics


Understanding the nature of genetic variation in natural populations is an underlying theme of population genetics. In recent years population genetics has benefited from the incorporation of landscape and environmental data into pre-existing models of isolation by distance (IBD) to elucidate features influencing spatial genetic variation. Many of these landscape genetics studies have focused on populations separated by discrete barriers (e.g., mountain ridges) or species with specific habitat requirements (i.e., habitat specialists). One difficulty in using a landscape genetics approach for taxa with less stringent habitat requirements (i.e., generalists) is the lack of obvious barriers to gene flow and preference for specific habitats. My study attempts to fill this information gap to understand mechanisms underlying population subdivision in generalists, using the squirrel treefrog (Hyla squirella) and a system for classifying ‗terrestrial ecological systems‘ (i.e. habitat types). I evaluate this dataset with microsatellite markers and a recently introduced method based on ensemble learning (Random Forest) to identify whether spatial distance, habitat types, or both have influenced genetic connectivity among 20 H. squirella populations. Next, I hierarchically subset the populations included in the analysis based on (1) genetic assignment tests and (2) Mantel correlograms to determine the relative role of spatial distance in shaping landscape genetic patterns. Assignment tests show evidence of two genetic clusters that separate populations in Florida‘s panhandle (Western cluster) from those in peninsular Florida and southern Georgia (Eastern cluster). Mantel correlograms suggest a patch size of approximately 150 km. Landscape genetic analyses at all three spatial scales yielded improved model fit relative to isolation by distance when including habitat types. A hierarchical effect was identified whereby the importance of spatial distance (km) was the strongest predictor of patterns of genetic differentiation above the scale of the genetic patch. Below the genetic patch, spatial distance was still an explanatory variable but was only iv approximately 30% as relevant as mesic flatwoods or upland oak hammocks. Thus, it appears that habitat types largely influence patterns of population genetic connectivity at local scales but the signal of IBD becomes the dominant driver of regional connectivity. My results highlight some habitats as highly relevant to increased genetic connectivity at all spatial scales (e.g., upland oak hammocks) while others show no association (e.g., silviculture) or scale specific associations (e.g., pastures only at global scales). Given these results it appears that treating habitat as a binary metric (suitable/non-suitable) may be overly simplistic for generalist species in which gene flow probably occurs in a spectrum of habitat suitability. The overall pattern of spatial genetic and landscape genetic structure identified here provides insight into the evolutionary history and patterns of population connectivity for H. squirella and improves our understanding of the role of matrix composition for habitat generalists.


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Graduation Date





Hoffman, Eric


Master of Science (M.S.)


College of Sciences


Biological Sciences








Release Date

August 2010

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences, Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic