Effective conservation management relies on robust understanding of a wide breadth of knowledge, including a species’ life history, vital rates, population structure & connectivity, habitat utilization, and threats. The fields of population genetics and ecology have long played integral roles in ascertaining these key parameters, and recent technological advances have swung the door wide open to new and exciting integrated approaches across these disciplines. Our research group conducts molecular ecology research across a diverse spectrum of applications to address critical knowledge gaps in animal conservation.
We particularly use a a variety of techniques that employ high-throughput sequencing technologies (HTS). These approaches allow us to interrogate thousands of loci across the entire genome (including nuclear SNPs and complete mitogenomes) to elucidate critical neutral and adaptive processes, and/or reliably quantify fewer markers across thousands of samples (e.g., for individual genotyping or species barcoding). These tools build on previous genetic markers, such as mtDNA control region and nuclear microsatellites, to offer powerful approaches to address knowledge gaps in animal conservation through identifying significant population units to conserve, estimating critical demographic rates, and conducting population assignment of unknown individuals.
marine turtle conservation genetics
Seven species of sea turtles inhabit the world’s oceans. In addition to being iconic marine species, sea turtles are fascinating for a long list of ecological, evolutionary, and physiological reasons. Unfortunately, human activities have negative impacts on these animals, and many sea turtle populations are greatly below historical levels and/or still declining. However, science and conservation efforts are helping to identify and address these problems, ultimately working to restore and protect these species. At NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, we have developed HTS methods for rapid genotyping across marine turtle species (including RAD-Seq & Rapture, other targeted capture, and highly multiplexed PCR-HTS approaches). In addition to refining our understanding of fine-scale population structure and connectivity, we can use these tools for a variety of genotyping applications, such as assessing mating systems, determining vital rates via genetic mark-recapture, and conducting genetic stock assignment.
To learn more about recent and upcoming marine turtle genetic conservation applications,
habitat restoration impacts on anadromous fish population connectivity
Fragmentation of riverine habitat from dams and other barriers has negatively impacted many aquatic species, particularly anadromous fishes that rely on connectivity and access to freshwater spawning habitat. Efforts to restore habitat connectivity through the installation of fish ladders, dam removals and other means hold great promise, but require effective monitoring of populations prior, during and after the changes to quantify positive impacts. In one such case, we are partnering with the Passamaquoddy Tribe and the Headwaters to Oceans Lab to assess the admixture of landlocked and anadromous river herring in the St. Croix Rivershed as numerous fish passage restoration actions are implemented. Combining HTS genotyping approaches with stable isotopes and abundance surveys, we are quantifying the efficacy of these restoration efforts to allow anadromous fish to reach freshwater spawning habitats as well as monitoring admixture and relative abundance of different ecotypes.
Want to learn more about river herring? Check out this NFWF video to learn just how incredible they are!
We will likely have upcoming opportunities for more conservation management projects with MA Division of Marine Fisheries, USFWS Richard Cronin Aquatic Resource Center & USGS Conte Anadromous Fish Leetown Science Center.
If you are interested in research opportunities to get involved, please see our opportunities page!