Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. David W. Weisrock


Understanding the demography of species over recent history (e.g., < 100 years) is critical in studies of ecology and evolution, but records of population history are rarely available. Large single nucleotide polymorphism datasets generated with restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (RADseq), in combination with demographic inference methods, are improving our ability to gain insights into the population history of both model and non-model species. However, to assess the performance of genetic methods it is important to compare their estimates of population history to known demography, in both simulation and empirical settings. Here, I used a simulation approach to examine the potential for RADseq datasets to accurately estimate effective population size (Ne) in Wright-Fisher populations over the course of stable and declining population trends, and distinguish stable from steadily declining populations over a contemporary time scale (20 generations). Overall, my results reveal that demographic inference using genome-wide data can be successfully applied to estimate Ne, and the detection of population-size declines. Next, I assess these methods in an empirical study from a wetland with 37 years of amphibian mark-recapture data to study the utility of genetically-based demographic inference on salamander species with documented population declines (Ambystoma talpoideum) and expansions (A. opacum). For both species, demographic model inference supported population size changes that corroborated mark-recapture data. To further validate these findings, I used individual-based population models of the pond-breeding salamander, Ambystoma opacum, with life-history parameters estimated from a long-term dataset, over a 50 year projection. My results demonstrate that genetically estimated Ne is positively correlated with census size in isolated and subdivided A. opacum populations. Finally, I investigated metapopulation patterns of genomic diversity in A. opacum and A. talpoideum and how migration may impact Ne estimation. I found strong patterns of subpopulation structuring, signatures of migration between subpopulations, and differences in Ne at the subpopulation level in both species. Overall, my findings suggest the ability of genomic data to reconstruct recent demographic changes, which can have important applications to conservation biology, and ultimately can help us elucidate the effects of environmental disturbances in the demography of endangered or declining species.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Available for download on Tuesday, March 13, 2018