Guschanski lab: Research
Ecological, climatic, and anthropogenic effects on animal population dynamics
Studying the dynamics of wild animal populations provides insights into many aspects of their ecology and behavior, informs conservation efforts, and, in case of primates, sheds light on the evolutionary processes that have likely shaped our own species. Using field research data on species ecology and behavior in combination with in-depth molecular analyses of field-collected samples we study spatial genetic structure, sex-biased dispersal, individual variation in dispersal abilities, and individual habitat preferences.
Currently, we are collaborating with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in our work on eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri).
Studies that combine contemporary and historical samples markedly refine our understanding of population-level processes. Historical samples are tremendously important when changes in genetic diversity, species distribution, and population relationships need to be investigated over time, as they provide a window into the past. They further allow us to analyze demographic changes and to study factors responsible for these changes, including climatic, environmental and anthropogenic effects. We benefit from collaborations with a number of European museums including Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany; Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium; Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, Belgium; Natural History Museum in London, United Kingdom and Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet in Stockholm (http://www.nrm.se/english.16_en.html), Sweden.
Species diversity and speciation processes
The availability of genomic tools allows us to study the role of hybridization and introgression in generating species diversity. Because hybridization status is frequently used to inform conservation decisions, it is crucial to provide a clear view on the importance of hybridization in shaping species diversity. Many primate taxa are known to hybridize in the wild and there is evidence that ancient hybridization might have been important in some lineages.
We are studying these processes in guenons and use both field-collected and museum samples to elucidate the importance of ancient and present-day hybridization in these and other taxa.
Genomic innovation, morphological and behavioral trait evolution
Elucidating the effect of genetic variants and genomic innovations on character trait evolution is an extremely exciting, but challenging task. Studies in domestic animals, such as dogs, horses and cattle identified genes underlying many interesting morphological traits, e.g. muscle growth, body size and coat color variation. However, performing these studies in wild animal populations is hampered by the difficulties in accessing samples from relevant cohorts, generally low sample sizes, and scarcity of available information (e. g. deep genealogies, long-term observations and records). Nevertheless, first attempts to study trait variation in nature have been made and we are interested in contributing to this research field by focusing on characteristics affecting adaptations to sparse and unpredictable resources in primates.
Developing methods for low-quality samples
Working with field-collected noninvasive samples, such as dung, hair, food remains, and with museum-preserved specimens requires a special set of techniques and approaches. This is because the DNA is present in very low quantities, is of low quality, and the samples are extremely precious. Making a large number of such “difficult” samples accessible for genetic and genomic analyses requires development of novel approaches. We engage in development and establishment of techniques suitable for genome-level analyses from such low-quality samples.
Department of Anthropology
UC Davis, CA