Record Details

Steinfartz, Sebastian;Glaberman, Scott;Lanterbecq, Deborah;Marquez B, Cruz M;Rassmann, Kornelia;Caccone, Adalgisa
Genetic impact of a severe El Niño event on Galápagos marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus)
Journal Article
Amblyrhynchus cristatus
The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a major source of climatic disturbance, impacting the dynamics of ecosystems worldwide. Recent models predict that human-generated rises in green-house gas levels will cause an increase in the strength and frequency of El Niño warming events in the next several decades, highlighting the need to understand the potential biological consequences of increased ENSO activity. Studies have focused on the ecological and demographic implications of El Niño in a range of organisms, but there have been few systematic attempts to measure the impact of these processes on genetic diversity in populations. Here, we evaluate whether the 1997-1998 El Niño altered the genetic composition of Galápagos marine iguana populations from eleven islands, some of which experienced mortality rates of up to 90% as a result of El Niño warming. Specifically, we measured the temporal variation in microsatellite allele frequencies and mitochondrial DNA diversity (mtDNA) in samples collected before (1991/1993) and after (2004) the El Niño event. Based on microsatellite data, only one island (Marchena) showed signatures of a genetic bottleneck, where the harmonic mean of the effective population size (N(e)) was estimated to be less than 50 individuals during the period between samplings. Substantial decreases in mtDNA variation between time points were observed in populations from just two islands (Marchena and Genovesa). Our results suggests that, for the majority of islands, a single, intense El Niño event did not reduce marine iguana populations to the point where substantial neutral genetic diversity was lost. In the case of Marchena, simultaneous changes to both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA variation may also be the result of a volcanic eruption on the island in 1991. Therefore, studies that seek to evaluate the genetic impact of El Niño must also consider the confounding or potentially synergistic effect of other environmental and biological forces shaping populations.