Kasvukohtade killustumine on üks olulisemaid liigilise ja geneetilise mitmekesisuse püsimajäämist ohustavaid tegureid. Geneetilise mitmekesisuse säilimine aitab tagada liikide võimekust kohaneda muutuvate keskkonnatingimustega. Paraku on ebaselge see, kuidas mõjutavad erinevad maastikuelemendid killustunud taimepopulatsioonidevahelist funktsionaalset sidusust ja sellega seotud geneetilist mitmekesisust. Et sellele küsimusele vastata, kombineerin ma käesolevas projektis kaasaegseid molekulaarseid ning maastikuanalüüsi meetodeid hindamaks killustunud populatsioonide vahelist geenivoolu ning populatsioonide neutraalset ja adaptiivset geneetilist mitmekesisust. Projekti tulemusena paranevad meie teadmised selle kohta, kuidas maastiku skaalas toimuvad protsessid mõjutavad taimede geneetilist mitmekesisust. Need teadmised omakorda toetavad looduskaitseliste tegevuste planeerimisest.
Habitat fragmentation is a major threat to species and genetic diversity, the latter being a crucial prerequisite for species survival in times of rapid environmental change. Yet, we still lack detailed understanding of how landscape elements shape functional connectivity between habitats and by that affect the distribution of genetic diversity in habitats which experience drastic decrease in area and connectivity. To address this gap in our knowledge, I will apply state-of-the-art molecular tools in combination with landscape analysis for determining landscape variables affecting connectivity-related gene flow between fragmented populations, and neutral as well as adaptive relevant genetic diversity within and between populations. With the proposed project, we shall obtain fundamental insights into the landscape-driven genetic background of plants, which can serve as a basis for guiding decision-making in environmental conservation policy.
The project has advanced our knowledge of the genetic consequences of human-induced grassland loss and habitat change in a characteristic grassland plant, cowslip (Primula veris). Such knowledge is needed as basis for guiding decision-making in environmental conservation policy and restoration efforts. The project showed that the genetic diversity of cowslip responded to overgrowth and fragmentation of grasslands differently at the level of putatively neutral and adaptive molecular markers, indicating (i) that measures of genetic diversity assessed at different DNA regions might be driven by different environmental and/or evolutionary factors in response to habitat change. Thus, results of the project demonstrate (ii) that relying on neutral genetic markers only, still widely done in science and conservation, can be misleading and poses the risk of false conclusions in regard to scientific and restoration interests. Consequently, it is important to distinguish between neutral and adaptive markers for estimating genetic patterns in response to habitat change in a scientific and conservation context. The objectives of the project were in general achieved. Yet, the work is still continuing to explore the nature and underlying mechanisms of the patterns of genetic diversity and gene flow found in the current project. Within the project, excellence in landscape genetic knowledge and skills regarding genetic patterns at neutral but mainly putatively adaptive markers was significantly extended, for the research community, the Landscape Biodiversity work group and me. Besides, an international network with leading scientists in the field was deepened. The work associated to this project has led to multiple scientific publications, and more are in preparation. Notably, research activities from the Landscape Biodiversity group, including my Mobilitas project, yielded to an international Citizen Science campaign about cowslip.