Wagner Genetics Series Spring 2009

Genetics in the Wild: Wildlife Conservation and Genetics

Professor Mary Beth Davis

Conservation biology is a branch of science concerned with the study and preservation of biodiversity. Scientists increasingly apply genetic approaches to understand species biology and to develop wildlife management strategies. This course will explore how genetics can be used to aid conservation efforts. We will examine studies of a variety of endangered animal species such as elephants and whales, as well as reports about "recovered species" such as the American bison and bald eagle.
photo of bison in Yellowstone taken by M.B. Davis, 6/2003



Course Syllabus:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009: Introduction to conservation genetics
Biodiversity is a broad term that commonly refers to the number and variety of living organisms; the term also includes ecological and genetic diversity. We will cover some basic genetics and how genetic variation is important to species survival.

Wednesday January 21, 2009: Species or subspecies? Resolving taxonomic uncertainty
Taxonomy is crucial to conservation planning. In nature, populations of animals are often spread over wide geographic areas. Do these populations belong to the same species or different species?

Wednesday January 28, 2009: Wild populations, captive populations and conservation management units
Assessing the level of threat to a species requires analysis of its population structure. How many populations exist in the wild or in captivity? What is the amount of genetic variation between members of the same population and between different populations? How are animal groups to be protected determined? Case studies of the elephant, American bison, and tiger species will be considered.

Wednesday February 4, 2009: Wild populations, Captive populations and conservation management units (continued)
Continuation of previous week's topics.

Wednesday February 11, 2009: Using molecular biology for species preservation
Molecular biology techniques are important components of species survival programs. Several applications and limitations of the technology will be discussed, including captive breeding programs and storage of biomaterials for research. In addition, recently reported experiments to resurrect DNA from museum samples of extinct Tasmanian tigers will be presented.

Wednesday February 18, 2009: Wildlife forensics
Wildlife forensics laboratories often use DNA fingerprinting to detect illegal trafficking, poaching, and sales of products from threatened or endangered species. We will discuss forensic cases including detection of meat from illegally hunted whales, illegal sales of protected seahorse species, and poaching of bears in the U.S.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009: Wildlife management meets public policy
Wildlife protection is intricately linked to national and international laws and regulations. Integrating scientific information with ethical, legal, social, and cultural issues is essential to the design and implementation of conservation strategies. Recent cases, such as polar bears, will be presented.

Online Resources

This list of government and private organization dedicated to wildlife conservation only represents organizations whose work will be referred to during the course or whose educational resources were used during the class. The web sites for these organizations provides a plethora of information on programs devoted to specifice species, locales, public policy initiatives, etc.

A. Conservation Biology Organizations and International Programs

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Our mission is, working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
Online library of wildlife and conservation information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is a multi-faceted Agency with a broad mission area that includes protecting and promoting U.S. agricultural health, regulating genetically engineered organisms, administering the Animal Welfare Act and carrying out wildlife damage management activities.

IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges.

United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre
“The UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) is a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme, the world's foremost intergovernmental environmental organization, and WCMC 2000, a UK-based charity.” The web site has a wealth of information on conservation programs, species preservation, and biodiversity initiatives.

The Wildlife Conservation Society is dedicated to conservation of wildlife and wild lands worldwide. Headquarters at the Bronx Zoo but operates in more than 50 countries.

Campaign for America’s Wilderness established in 2002 to protect America’s remaining wild lands

Defenders of Wildlife - Founded in 1947, dedicated to wildlife and habitat conservation.

B. Biodiversity

Introduction to Biodiversity from the New York State BIODIVERSITY RESEARCH INSTITUTE

Information on biodiversity from the Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Good explanations of genetic diversity and conservation biology issues from the BBC's Guide to Life Science

C. Conservation Genetics

Introduction to conservation biology and basic genetics from the Genetics Learning Center at the University of Utah

D. Endangered Species

U.S. National Fish & Wildlife Service Refuge System - Threatened and Endangered Species Database
Searchable database of endangered species with information about conservation status

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service searchable database for species “fact sheets

Overview of the Endangered Species Act from the National Marine Fisheries Service section of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A pdf file of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) is also available to download.

IUCN Red List annual assessment of the global conservation status of plant and animal species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature works with governments and NGOs worldwide to address environmental issues.

General news articles about endangered species from New Scientist Magazine

E. Wildlife forensics

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensic Lab - A criminal investigative lab dedicated to solving crimes against wildlife. Good general information resources about wildlife forensic sciences.

F. Miscellaneous sites about specific animal species covered in the course

American Bison Society, was founded in 1905 to prevent the extinction of bison. In 2005 it was relaunched by the Wildlife Conservation Society to secure the future of the bison.

History of the recovery of the bison herds from the Defenders of Wildlife web site.

American Bald Eagle species profile from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Information on the bald eagle regarding to its status relative to the endangered species list from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

U.S. Department of the Interior reference page for policy regarding polar bear conservation. Includes basic fact sheets about the species as well as pdf files of policy statements.

Polar Bears International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the polar bear species.

Return to the homepage for the Genetics Series at the Wagner Free Institute of Science

Latest update: January 9, 2009
Questions? Email Mary Beth Davis.