Developing and Evaluating Methods in Conservation Genetics

Genetic diversity constitutes the foundational level of biodiversity, and loss of genetic diversity can contribute to species extinction and constrain evolutionary potential in the context of a rapidly changing environment. Moreover, genetic methods have become critical for a number of important conservation questions including assessing connectivity in fragmented landscapes, delineating management units, characterizing demographic history, and estimating population size. However, genetic methods are often applied without full consideration of underlying assumptions and the time and spatial scale to which the approach applies, which can lead to erroneous inferences and flawed conservation decisions.

Thus, in addition to applying genetic methods to address ecological questions in our various study systems, an important part of our research program involves evaluating commonly used genetic methods as well as developing new genetic approaches for conservation applications. Examples of our research include:

  1. developing genetic kinship methods to determine connectivity among populations on recent time scales (Peery et al. 2008, Palsboll et al. 2010),
  2. assessing the ability of genetic assignment tests to estimate migration in species with little population genetic structure (Hall et al. 2009),
  3. using genetic material from historically-collected museum specimens to study the impacts of nesting habitat fragmentation on the connectivity of murrelet populations (Peery et al. 2010)
  4. evaluating the reliability of standard genetic bottleneck tests (Peery et al. In Press), and
  5. evaluation of the use of genetic methods to estimate historic population size (Palsboll et al. In Review).