Wildlife Evolution and Behavior (WEB)
The Wildlife Evolution and Behavior program is dedicated to basic and applied research on marine mammals, including in remote locations like the Arctic as well as in subtropical regions. Our research focuses on behavioral, ecological, and evolutionary aspects of species vulnerability and resilience, especially in times of change. We have a strong conservation and co-management ethos, collaborating with many partners, including Native Peoples across the north.
Much of our research centers on three simple questions: what do animals do, how do they do it, and ultimately why do they do what they do. There is no substitute for getting in the field if you want to get to know your study subject. We also benefit from technology. Telemetry, especially satellite-linked telemetry, has opened many doors to research and discovery in recent years, especially for marine apex predators. Whenever possible, we try to combine telemetry and other modern technologies, including passive acoustics and drones, with more traditional notebook-and-pencil observations to gain the necessary multi-scale insight for complete inference of behavior, ecology and the strategies animals use to maximize fitness.
Combining field studies with molecular genetic profiling of wild populations provides unique insights into the behavior and fitness of individuals and thus the structure, dynamics, viability, and evolution of populations and species. Rooted in studies of population structure, dispersal, and gene flow, our molecular lab focuses on high-throughput sequencing (e.g., mtDNA, MHC) and genotyping (e.g., microsatellites, SNPs) of preferably large numbers of individuals from multiple social groups and populations. In many cases, our studies have a temporal as well as spatial component, where long time-series of samples are required to address questions related to ecosystem shifts, climate change or specific events.
Genomics & Ancient DNA
In the course of our research, two emerging areas have forced themselves onto our consciousness and ultimately on to the lab bench: ‘Omics’ and ‘Ancient DNA’. The recent sequencing of entire genomes has provided us with the tools to apply a new generation of pocket-sized sequencers to genomic and metagenomic research. Ancient DNA is the closest we can get to travelling back in time. Our Ancient DNA facility at HBOI-FAU is a state-of-the art series of clean room chambers that allow multiple studies to proceed simultaneously.