An evaluation of dispersal distances of two treeline forming species Grant uri icon


  • As environments change over time, vegetation must adapt, migrate or die. The ability of plants to migrate is one of the more intractable and unanswered problems in both biogeography and ecology. Recent advances in genetics allow analysis of plant migration potential that previously had been impossible to assess. Under a changing climate, vegetation zones may shift. The magnitude of those shifts as well as the speed at which those shifts occur can be determined by both the rate of climate change and the rate at which elements of vegetation communities are able to respond to those changes. The ability of plants to disperse their seeds and for those seeds to become established under climate change is not well known. This research will make a vital contribution to the literature on transition zones (ecotones) among different vegetation types by finally answering the question whether new individuals at one wide-spread vegetation transition (the alpine treeline) are derived from the local environment versus if they are traveling long distances. The procedures developed to determine dispersal distances at treeline could also be extended to other ecotones or ecosystems. This study will examine the central questions above by employing microsatellite (short sequence) analysis of genomic DNA to identify the genetic sub-populations of both white spruce and mountain hemlock in southcentral Alaska. These populations will be used to determine if recruits to the treeline are more closely related to near or far populations, thereby determining the prevalence of long versus short distance dispersal. A parentage analysis will also be conducted to estimate actual dispersal distances and directions. This research will aid in the training of both graduate and undergraduate students and strengthen ties between scientists in the US and Germany. Efforts will be made to recruit under-represented groups of students in the study. Furthermore, interaction with the general public will be facilitated through the connections that have been made and will be further strengthened with the US National Park Service (NPS) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Educational outreach opportunities will include public presentations to NPS personnel as well as dissemination of key findings to visitors to the Kenai Fjords National Park, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and to local schools in Texas.

date/time interval

  • 2014 - 2017