Biodiversity losses and limited resources may soon call for the preservation of key populations rather than entire species. However, successful population-level management requires both an understanding of where evolutionarily distinct taxa occur on the landscape and an efficient method for prioritizing taxa based on survey data. The present study addresses these needs. I begin by investigating the genetic identity and origins of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in North America’s Intermountain West. I then demonstrate a new approach for prioritizing populations that extends the metrics for evolutionary isolation from phylogenetic trees to phylogenetic networks, using two example species. Patterns of genetic differentiation for red foxes are consistent with endemism or natural range expansion in the Intermountain West, making this population a potential conservation target. Heuristic networks generated for spotted owls (Strix occidentalis) and mountain pygmy-possums (Burramys parvus) show how the approach can highlight peripheral populations that may merit increased conservation attention.
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Thesis advisor: Mooers, Arne
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