Department of Natural Sciences, Faculty of Science & Engineering
ECOLOGICAL GENETICS & CONSERVATION
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I am a Wildlife Biologist, MSc Conservation Biology, Manchester Metropolitan University (2007 to 2011). My research aims to evaluate the extinction risks affecting populations of mammal megafauna. This means understanding how mammals are distributed within an ecosystem, making abundance estimates, identifying habitat features that are conducive to mammal persistence and evaluating threats, often human caused. I use landscape genetics approaches to help explain these factors.
2017 to present – Population structure of reintroduced mountain hares, Peak District UK
Sponsored by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and Hare Preservation Trust (HPT).
This is a PhD research program aiming to forecast the likelihood of extinction for an isolated group of some 2,500 mountain hares (Lepus timidus) which reside in a 250km2 national park in northern England. Findings may provide guidelines for conservation mitigations.
Genetic risks to this group of animals arise from the small size of the ancestral founder population. Indeed initially perhaps just 150 hares survived the reintroductions of the 1870’s. We know that hare populations cycle dramatically every 4 to 10 years, crashing by 90%. This may lead to genetic bottlenecks, inbreeding and fitness problems. Of further concern, mountain hares sometimes hybridise with the European brown hare (Lepus europaeus), which has occurred in Sweden, Denmark, Russia and Ireland. To measure genetic diversity and detect hybrids, I am gathering genetic material from roadkill and field mountain hare and brown hare carcasses.
2012 to present – Genetic rescue of the endangered Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bear population, North West Montana USA
Groundbreaking population genetics research was incepted in 1993, identifying the inbreeding of 14 grizzly bears (Ursus arctus horribilis), isolated in the Cabinet Mountains, North West Montana. Over the ensuing years, four “augmentation” grizzly bears were translocated to this ecosystem. One of these sired cubs and grand cubs, making this a pioneering achievement of genetic rescue.
Since 2012 I have supported ongoing research to identify individual grizzlies, working with United States Fish and Wildlife Service. I use DNA hair snagging techniques (rub trees and blood-lured hair corrals) to gather hair from bears, analysed with 17 microsatellite markers. Each year more than 25 grizzly bears have been uniquely identified, making this an effective and cost efficient means of population monitoring.