Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Welch, Mark E.

Committee Member

Wallace, Lisa

Committee Member

Ervin, Gary N.

Committee Member

Knapp, Charles R.

Committee Member

Counterman, Brian A.

Other Advisors or Committee Members

Gerber, Glenn P.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Biological Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of Biological Sciences


Understanding whether groups of individuals represent a single panmictic gene pool, or multiple genetically structured populations across a species range should aid in predicting whether specific conservation strategies would be more or less effective for species preservation. Further, contrasting the population structures of multiple coexisting taxa could foster an even deeper understanding of evolutionary divergence among demes and potentially even suggest local adaptation in the form of tight coevolutionary relationships. Finally, the analysis of population dynamics within small and isolated populations could improve our understanding of the relative importance that different evolutionary mechanisms have in predicting population persistence in the wild. Using microsatellite markers I characterized the population genetic structure in the critically endangered Cyclura cychlura cychlura iguanas on Andros Island. I found significant differences between inferred and realized rates of gene flow. This finding demonstrates that evolutionarily independent populations can occur even with high rates of dispersal. In the second and third study I contrasted patterns of genetic variability in Cyclura cychlura cychlura iguanas, ticks in the genus Amblyomma parasitizing these iguanas, and Rickettsia spp., potential pathogens transmitted by these ticks. I determined that genetic differences among Rickettsia samples and Amblyomma samples are highly concordant with genetic divergence among iguana populations. This finding suggests largely vertical dispersal of ticks and their super-parasite, a high specificity of this reptile-tick interaction, and historically low rates of dispersal in iguanas. This finding also indicates that island populations of iguanas may be locally adapted due to tight coevolutionary relationships. Finally, I investigated the mechanisms that eliminate harmful mutations in small isolated and natural populations of the critically endangered Cyclura cychlura cychlura iguanas. Using molecular tools I found indirect evidence suggesting that small natural populations can maintain significant levels of genetic variation in spite of strong selection acting against harmful mutations. Under regimes of random mating, the buildup of harmful mutations in small populations may result in a large number of inviable young. However, harmful mutations may also be eliminated when exposed to natural selection through increased competition, as population density increases. However, quantification of the relative role of competition was not feasible in this study.



microsatellites||population structure||population dynamics||conservation genetics