An interdisciplinary approach to describing biological diversity

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Polfus, Jean
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Ecology and Society; Journal of Biogeography
The concept of biodiversity – the phenotypic and genotypic variation among organisms – is central to conservation biology. There is growing recognition that biodiversity does not exist in isolation, but rather is intrinsically and evolutionarily linked to cultural diversity and indigenous knowledge systems. In Canada, caribou (Rangifer tarandus) occupy a central place in the livelihoods and identities of indigenous people and display substantial variation across their distribution. However, quantifying caribou intraspecific variation has proven challenging. Interdisciplinary approaches are necessary to produce effective species characterizations and conservation strategies that acknowledge the interdependent relationships between people and nature in complex social-ecological systems. In this dissertation I use multiple disciplinary traditions to develop comprehensive and united representations of caribou variation through an exploration of population genetics, phylogenetics, traditional knowledge, language, and visual approaches in the Sahtú region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. First, I examine caribou variation through analysis of population genetics and the relationships Dene and Métis people establish with animals within bioculturally diverse systems. Next, I focus on how the Pleistocene glacial-interglacial cycles have shaped the current patterns of caribou phylogeographic lineage diversification. Finally, I explore how art can be used to facilitate cross-cultural collaboration and externalize the unique heterogeneity of biocultural diversity. The results demonstrate a broad scale understanding of the distribution, spatial organization, and the degree of differentiation of caribou populations in the region. I found evidence for caribou population differentiation that corresponds to the caribou types recognized by Dene people: tǫdzı “boreal woodland caribou,” ɂekwę́ “barren-ground caribou,” and shúhta ɂepę́ “mountain caribou.” Phylogenetic results reveal that in their northern margin the boreal ecotype of woodland caribou evolved independently from the northern Beringian lineage in contrast with southern boreal caribou which belong to the sub-Laurentide refugia lineage. In addition, I demonstrate how art can be used improve communication, participation, and knowledge production among interdisciplinary research collaborations and across language and knowledge systems. A collaborative process of research that facilitates łeghágots'enetę “learning together” has the potential to produce sustainable conservation solutions, develop efficient and effective wildlife management policies, and ensure caribou remain an important part of the landscape.
Approximate Bayesian computation, Beringia, Biocultural diversity, Biodiversity, Caribou, Collaborative research, Convergent evolution, First Nation, Glacial refugia, Indigenous communities, Parallel evolution, Population genetics; Phylogenetics, Rangifer tarandus, Resource management, Social-ecological systems, Traditional knowledge
Polfus, Jean L., Micheline Manseau, Deborah Simmons, Michael Neyelle, Walter Bayha, Frederick Andrew, Leon Andrew, Cornelya F.C. Klütsch, Keren Rice, and Paul Wilson. 2016. "Łeghágots'enetę (learning together): the importance of indigenous perspectives in the identification of biological variation." Ecology and Society 21(2):18.; Polfus, Jean L. , Micheline Manseau, Cornelya F.C. Klütsch, Deborah Simmons, and Paul J. Wilson. 2016. "Ancient diversification in glacial refugia‎ leads to intraspecific diversity in a Holarctic mammal." Journal of Biogeography doi:10.1111/jbi.12918