Currently, I am a post-doctoral associate at Yale University working with Dr. Adalgisa Caccone on a long-term project investigating giant Galapagos tortoise genomics. Recently a population of Galapagos tortoises was found to contain hybrid individuals from two species that were thought to be extinct. Using genomic techniques I aim to identify additional tortoises with DNA from these “extinct” species. Genomic methods provide the accuracy to detect subtle ancestry, and this information will help establish breeding programs on the islands.
During my PhD I worked with bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), an iconic fauna of the Canadian Rockies, prized by both naturalists and recreational hunters. While in the lab of Dr. David Coltman (University of Alberta) I developed genomic tools to investigate the genetic basis of traits that are the subject of intense management focus: horn morphology and body size. Specifically, I characterized thousands of genetic markers and then applied them to individuals from the Ram Mountain study population. Sheep in this population are followed throughout their lives and have horn and body size measurements taken multiple times, which allowed me to separate environmental causes of differences in size (e.g. resource availability) from genetic bases. At the completion of my PhD I concluded that specific regions of the genome may influence horn morphology.
Prior to starting my PhD I worked for a year at the Conservation Genetics Laboratory of the Smithsonian Institution. Here I was a part of several multi-national conservation projects under the supervision of Dr. Robert Fleischer and Dr. Frank Hailer. With Dr. Fleischer I worked to identify the genetic ancestry of individual ostriches (Strutio cameuls). There are five recognized sub-species of ostrich, one of which has gone extinct and another of which is critically endangered. Many of the critically endangered ones are held in captivity and I assessed the genetic diversity of these individuals to determine whether they had ancestry from only the critically endangered subspecies or were hybrids with the other groups. I successfully determined that none of the individuals showed signs of hybridization, which suggested that the individuals were suitable for a captive breeding program, and that the subspecies warrants placement on the IUCN red list of endangered species. With Dr. Hailer I helped to investigate the genetic structure and connectivity among populations of the magnificent frigate bird (Fregata magnificens). This worked showed that throughout the majority of their range there was no genetic structure among populations, which reflects the species great flying capabilities. However, on the Galapagos Islands there was a distinct genetic lineage.