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In Ecology and evolution

The tips in the tree of life serve as foci for conservation and management, yet clear delimitations are masked by inherent variance at the species-population interface. Analyses using thousands of nuclear loci can potentially sort inconsistencies, yet standard categories applied to this parsing are themselves potentially conflicting and/or subjective [e.g., DPS (distinct population segments); DUs (Diagnosable Units-Canada); MUs (management units); SSP (subspecies); ESUs (Evolutionarily Significant Units); and UIEUs (uniquely identified evolutionary units)]. One potential solution for consistent categorization is to create a comparative framework by accumulating statistical results from independent studies and evaluating congruence among data sets. Our study illustrates this approach in speckled dace (Leuciscidae: Rhinichthys osculus) endemic to two basins (Owens and Amargosa) in the Death Valley ecosystem. These fish persist in the Mojave Desert as isolated Plio-Pleistocene relicts and are of conservation concern, but lack formal taxonomic descriptions/designations. Double digest RAD (ddRAD) methods identified 14,355 SNP loci across 10 populations (N = 140). Species delimitation analyses [multispecies coalescent (MSC) and unsupervised machine learning (UML)] delineated four putative ESUs. FST outlier loci (N = 106) were juxtaposed to uncover the potential for localized adaptations. We detected one hybrid population that resulted from upstream reconnection of habitat following contemporary pluvial periods, whereas remaining populations represent relics of ancient tectonism within geographically isolated springs and groundwater-fed streams. Our study offers three salient conclusions: a blueprint for a multifaceted delimitation of conservation units; a proposed mechanism by which criteria for intraspecific biodiversity can be potentially standardized; and a strong argument for the proactive management of critically endangered Death Valley ecosystem fishes.

Mussmann Steven M, Douglas Marlis R, Oakey David D, Douglas Michael E


Amargosa Basin, Owens Basin, SNPs, ddRAD, machine learning, phylogenomics, selection