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Estimating population parameters in endangered afrotropical birds using temporal genetic samples


Effective population size (Ne) and migration rate (m) govern the viability of fragmented populations and, tus, arekey targets for conservation action. Although they are, arguably, two of the most important demographicparameters, they are notoriously diffic ult to get good estimates of. Thus, better measurement methods arerequired. Novel statistical techniques using multiple genetic samples collected over space and time promise adependable means for estimating both parameters with reasonable accuracy and prec ision, but these methodshave rarely been applied in empirical datasets. We propose to apply them to two populations of birds, one ofthem a threatened endemic, living in the highly fragmented Taita Hills forest, SE Kenya. Genetic data from white-starred rob in Pogonocichla stellata and endemic Taita thrush Turdus hellen have been collected in 1996-1997via discrete mark-recapture sessions. At the start of the proposed study, we endeavour to collect an extra batchof similar genetic data from the same population s as the 1996-1997 dataset. Then, using recently developedmoment and maximum-likelihood methods, we shall use temporal changes in alíele frequencies to estimate bothNe and m and contrast them to independent estimates of population size, N, and dispersal co mputed using thetraditional mark-recapture. Finally, we shall use the estimates of Ne and m to predict loss of genetic variation andoverall population viability under various scenarios, e.g. increasing habitat loss and decreasing patchconnectivity. Such i nformation will help in prioritising conservation and management action directed at rescuingthese threatened habitats and species from further attrition and decline. The applicant shall be directly involvedin all components of this work, viz., fieldwork, D NA sampling, extraction and sequencing, state-of-the-art dataanalyses, and quality control and interpretation.

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