Developing and Evaluating Methods in Conservation Genetics

We use genetics and genomics as a tool for understanding population demographics and adaptation in the framework of both historical and recent changes to climate and habitat. By applying genetic theory, our research provides information on evolutionary history and contemporary genetic variation to help identify conservation methods for sustaining population in the wild.

Our work uses genomic methods to understand the population demographics, adaptation, diet, and invasiveness of Spotted Owls and Barred Owls. We currently focus on the population genetics of all three Spotted Owl subspecies and the invasion pathway, adaptation, and diet of the Barred Owl.


Diet of Barred Owls in their Native and Invasive Range

Understanding diets of Barred Owls in their invasive range is crucial to identify and protect at-risk communities of prey. Historically, owl diet studies are done using morphological pellet and stomach content methods, but these methods often undercount species that are soft bodied or hard to detect. We utilize next-generation molecular metabarcoding to gain a better understanding of Barred Owl Diet across the range.

Our projects involve: 1) Identifying changes in barred owl dietary diversity and composition along the invasion pathway in California, Oregon, Washington, and the upper Midwest. 2) Identifying which prey items are associated with high levels of anticoagulant rodenticide exposure near illegal cannabis grow sites in Northern California. 3) Determining differences in diet between old growth forests in parks and secondary growth on managed lands.

Barred Owl Diet Items

Epigenetic Differentiations in Barred Owls Exposed to Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides (AR)

Using oxford nanopore, we measure gene methylation in the tissues of barred owls from wild populations in Northern California. Our aim is to identify how methylation patterns are associated with AR contaminants measured in barred owls around illegal cannabis grow sites found in remote areas. The genes of interest code for vitamin K receptors, stress response hormones, and hormones associated with reproduction to detect potential fitness consequences of secondary exposure to ARs. 

Impacts Of Anthropogenic Changes on the Population Demographics of Spotted Owls

Spotted Owls consists of three subspecies ranging from British Columbia to central Mexico:  Northern Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) in the Pacific Northwest, California Spotted Owls (S. o. occidentalis) in eastern and southern California, and Mexican Spotted Owls (S. o. lucida) in the southwest US and Mexico. All three subspecies are listed as conservation concern due to reasons such as urbanization, Barred Owl invasion, climate change, and habitat loss. Understanding genetic diversity, population growths and declines, and inbreeding can help identify populations at risk and guide conservation decisions. We are leveraging thousands of SNPs across populations of each subspecies to characterize how genetic population structure and variation is shaped by recent processes.

Relevant Publications

Kryshak*, N. F. and Fountain*, E. D., D. F. Hofstadter*, B. P. Dotters, K. N. Roberts, C. M. Wood*, K. G. Kelly*, I. F. Papraniku*, P. J. Kulzer*, A. K. Wray*, H. A. Kramer*, J. P. Dumbacher, J. J. Keane, P. A. Shaklee, R. J. Gutiérrez*, and M. Z. Peery* (2022) DNA metabarcoding reveals the threat of rapidly expanding barred owl populations to native wildlife in western North AmericaBiological Conservation, 273, 109678.

Hofstadter*, D. F. and Kryshak*, N. F., M. W. Gabriel, C. M. Wood*, G. M. Wengert, B. P. Dotters, K. N. Roberts, E. D. Fountain*, K. G. Kelly*, J. J. Keane, S. A. Whitmore*, W. J. Berigan*, M. Z. Peery*, (2021) High rates of anticoagulant rodenticide exposure in California Barred Owls are associated with the wildland–urban interface. Ornithological Applications, 123, duab036.

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