Research in the Meek Lab aims to 1) determine the role of genetic diversity in population and ecosystem health and persistence, 2) elucidate the relationship between life history trait diversity and molecular diversity, 3) understand how natural and anthropogenic forces affect diversity and differentiation within and among populations, with the goal of improving our ability to conserve biodiversity, and 4) develop genetic tools to aid in the study, management, and conservation of species. Below are several key projects.
CONSERVING FISH SPECIES BY UNDERSTANDING LOCAL ADAPTATION AND PREDICTING RESPONSES TO CLIMATE CHANGE
Climate change poses a great threat to cold-water fish species. This is particularly true for lake dwelling cold-water fish as they are often limited in their capacity to disperse to avoid stressful conditions. Our ability to predict and plan for the effects of climate change is constrained by our understanding of the capacity of populations to adapt to changing conditions. This understanding requires knowledge of the genetic diversity and molecular mechanisms that underpin species’ ability to adapt. We are studying the effects differing climates have in shaping molecular responses to thermal stress in several distinct, but geographically close, populations of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). Brook trout of eastern North America is a sentinel cold-water species, with decreasing suitable thermal habitat. We are using a system of stratified and unstratified lakes as a natural climate change experiment, where the unstratified lake populations persist in thermally stressful conditions, while populations in stratified lakes have access to thermal refuge habitat at the bottom of the lakes. We are taking a genomic approach to address two questions: 1) Are there differences in gene expression among fish from different lakes and lake types (stratified vs. unstratified) in response to thermal stress, demonstrating local adaptation? and 2) Are there regions of the genome associated with differences in susceptibility and phenotypic response to thermal stress? We will be using this information to develop an approach for assessing the genetic diversity associated with thermal adaptation in other brook trout populations. The information gained from this study will be invaluable for understanding the molecular basis for local adaptation and its relation to climate change resiliency planning, and in designing management actions that sustain brook trout and their habitats into the future.
Huffington Post: “Can Trout Evolve to Survive Climate Change? 5 Questions for Dr. Mariah Meek” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tim-ward/can-trout-evolve-to-survi_b_9406796.html
ECOLOGY AND POPULATION GENOMICS OF CALIFORNIA CENTRAL VALLEY SALMONIDS
The Meek Lab is investigating the population genomics of the Endangered Species Act listed California Central Valley Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). We are using next-generation sequencing techniques (RAD-seq) to evaluate population structure within the Central Valley and to look for signatures of natural selection across the genome. Thus far, by taking a genome-wide approach, we’ve discovered over 12,000 new single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and show greater population structuring and genetic diversity in the Central Valley than previously identified. We also show evidence for differentiation and adaptation within migratory phenotypes despite high levels of gene flow (Meek et al 2019). Additionally, we have developed an ancestry informative marker set of single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers that improve our ability to distinguish between the various Chinook salmon run types and identify unknown individuals back to their source population (Meek et al. 2016). This work greatly improves our understanding of the genomic structure involved in adaptive variation among populations. It will be informative in the management of this imperiled species, including evaluating potential source populations for reintroduction efforts, genetic monitoring of populations in the face of climate change, and identifying juveniles to run type.
The Meek Lab has recently been funded to continue this exciting work to improve our ability to protect life history trait diversity in Chinook salmon. Life history trait diversity (migration timing) is decreasing in the Central Valley, leading to increased demographic synchrony and decreased buffering. A key roadblock to protecting the diversity present is the current inability to rapidly and inexpensively identify large numbers of individuals from different populations and life history types during their outmigration. We are addressing this information gap by leveraging pre-existing genomic data to develop a new high-throughput genotyping panel that will allow us to identify individuals to run type and tributary, including identifying Fall run that are from the Sacramento versus the San Joaquin River basins. Using our newly developed molecular panel, we are genotyping thousands of juvenile Chinook salmon tissue samples collected over the past 20+ years. These individuals are being assigned to their run and tributary or river basin of origin. We are using this information, in combination with environmental data on water temperature and river flows, to determine the relationship between environmental conditions and yearly juvenile life history diversity. The information generated by this work will provide managers with the ability to accurately monitor the effect of key management actions on the different Central Valley Chinook salmon populations.
“Mariah Meek Harnesses the Power of New Genomic Tools to Address a Real-world Conservation Problem” https://integrativebiology.natsci.msu.edu/news/mariah-meek-harnesses-the-power-of-new-genomic-tools-to-address-a-real-world-conservation-problem/
“MSU researcher nets grant to investigate imperiled Chinook salmon in California’s Central Valley” https://natsci.msu.edu/news/msu-researcher-nets-grant-to-investigate-imperiled-chinook-salmon-in-californias-central-valley/
HABITAT USE OF JUVENILE CHINOOK SALMON IN THE SACRAMENTO-SAN JOAQUIN DELTA
Very little is known about how the runs of federally listed California Central Valley Chinook salmon differentially use habitat, yet this information is key to understanding how to target ecosystem restoration and conservation efforts. We are addressing this issue by applying molecular techniques to quantify the proportional use of flood plain and riverine habitat by juvenile Chinook in each of the spring, winter, fall, and late-fall runs. The Meek Lab is also investigating the natal origins of juveniles in floodplain and riverine habitat to determine if fish from different streams have different migration pathways. This information will aid our understanding of how different populations within the same species partition habitat in space and time, as well as allow managers to better direct restoration and conservation efforts to protect threatened populations and ecosystems. This work is taking place in the Sacramento River and Yolo Bypass floodplain.
Collaborators on this project include scientists at the California Dept. of Water Resources.
CONSERVATION OF EXTREMELY SMALL POPULATIONS
There are over 300 species in the United States that are listed as Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List. These are the most imperiled populations we know of, yet there are many impediments to their conservation and protection, including large gaps in our understanding of how to protect them. In order to identify what the major data gaps are for the conservation of species on the verge of extinction, Dr. Meek organized a special interdisciplinary symposium and workshop on the topic (Check out this link to see recordings of all the great talks!). I collaborated with the workshop participants to collate the understanding gained from this workshop. The manuscript (Meek et al. 2015) outlines current impediments to the conservation of extremely small populations, as well as providing tangible solutions.
INVASION BIOLOGY AND MOLECULAR ECOLOGY OF BRACKISH WATER HYDROZOANS IN THE SAN FRANCISCO ESTUARY
A suite of four predatory hydrozoan species (Maeotias marginata, Moerisia sp., Blackfordia virginica, and Cordylophora caspia) have invaded and become abundant in the San Francisco Estuary (SFE). Our current level of knowledge regarding the basic biology and ecology of these organisms is alarmingly poor in light of both their possibly negative effect on the SFE ecosystem and the increasing trends in jellyfish blooms around the globe. Dr. Meek’s dissertation research sought to investigate the potential effects of these species on the SFE ecosystem (Wintzer et al. 2011), to determine the key factors allowing successful establishment and spread of these species (Meek et al. 2009, Meek et al. 2013, Wintzer et al. 2010, Wintzer et al. 2011), and to predict future spread of the invasions (Meek et al. 2012).