I have moved on from being a graduate student. Although I don't graduate until December, I have started a new position as a post doctoral scientist of conservation genetics at the Center for Conservation Research (CCR) at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium (OHDZA)! I will be working mostly on projects on lemurs and other species from Madagascar, throwing in the occasional elephant and big cat project to keep myself associated with main land Africa. I'm still settling in but it won't be too difficult a transition when I can see orangutans out the lab window and I get to take a daily safari walk to see all my favorite animals.
Being so close to the action I'll hopefully be able to get the inside scoop (like I did with the Indian rhino. The repro team showed us the birth video only hours after it happened!) and you know I'll be making regular visits to their enclosure to bask in the tail poof glory. I'd have to pass by sloth bears and tigers on the way there too. Darn.
The Challenge is 2-fold:
The project with the most BACKERS will receive an extra $1,000 added to their GOAL.
Our GOAL is $5,000 and we must receive 100% of our GOAL to get any of the money donated by the BACKERS.
Go to Experiment.com/liondiversity and show some support by making a donation. Any little bit helps! The more people who make donations the better. You can also help by spreading the word.
The Challenge (# of BACKERS) runs from today to Friday, June 10 @ 6PM ET
The Campaign (100% of GOAL) runs from today to Saturday, June 18
Your support is much appreciated! THANKS!!!
If you haven’t heard yet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) has made a ruling to list the lion as two subspecies under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Effective today, under the ESA (this is an important distinction), the lion will now be Panthera leo leo and Panthera leo melanchaita.
The ruling also includes some new regulations on hunting permit requirements. Anyone convicted of or who has pled guilty to violations of wildlife laws will be denied a permit. They will also only allow the importation of sport-hunted trophies from countries with established conservation programs and well-managed lion populations to help support and strengthen the accountability of conservation programs in other nations.
This ruling seems fair but their use of previously and currently used subspecies names may get a little convoluted in the overall scheme of things. It seems as though USFWS is showing a genuine concern in looking after the best interest of the African lion but I think more research is still needed (and not just because I’m one of the ones doing it) to make decisions that will be beneficial for both the lions and the countries they live in.
The manuscript I have been working so hard on for most of the year has finally been published!
My first publication, Mitochondrial Haplotype Diversity in Zambian Lions: Bridging a Gap in the Biogeography of an Iconic Species, was made live today, December 16th, 2015! I am now officially a published author!
The paper is about matrelineal gene flow and genetic diversity of lions in Zambia. We found that lions in Zambia have a high level of diversity but can be separated into two sub-populations with little to no matrelineal gene flow between the two. The separation could be historical but it more likely due to an expanse of cities and roads that inhibit modern day dispersal because, when put in context with the entire range of the African lion, Zambia acts as a bridge connecting Southern and Eastern lion populations. This is all based on analysis of mitochondrial genes and the discovery of 5 sets of DNA variations (haplotypes) thus far not seen anywhere else in Africa.
Here's my official citation:
Curry CJ, White PA, Derr JN (2015) Mitochondrial Haplotype Diversity in Zambian Lions: Bridging a Gap in the Biogeography of an Iconic Species. PLoS ONE 10(12): e0143827. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143827
I am currently working on a press release for this paper and I have already started writing my next publication, hopefully with two others soon to follow after that. My goal is that by the time I finish my PhD I will have at least 5 publications. Let the fun begin!
Along with the ever so important work of its graduate students, the Derr lab is also a core lab providing sequencing services and a service lab which provides bovid DNA testing. And a few months ago, those services were put to the test when the Derr lab took part in some investigative reporting being done by a South Carolina news station involving some bison meat that was suspected to be falsely labeled. Floyd, our trusty lab manager & sequencing master, sequenced some meat for the news station which they obtained and sent to us from the vendor to test what kind of bovid the steaks being sold were. Turns out... they were just your basic beef from cattle, not bison! Busted!!! Check out the story below.
Test results show shoppers not getting what they paid for at local butcher shop
Click "Read More" to read the full article from WBTV - CHARLOTTE, NC
Lions went extinct in Rwanda 15 years ago after the 1994 genocide when the Akagera National Park went unmanaged and cattle herders poisoned many of the animal species. And this week, in a big conservation effort, seven lions, 5 females and 2 males, are being relocated from the South African province of KwaZulu Natal to repopulate Rwanda with lions. They are starting their journey from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Rwanda today!
7/1/2015 - While doing a bit more research combing through article after article reading the same shpeal over and over I finally found something that somewhat confirmed my suspicion but with no real concrete evidence... there is political mumbo jumbo afoot....
The Christian Science Monitor (um, the what?) says that Kenya offered to donate eight lions to Rwanda last year but Kenya's wildlife conservation groups fiercely opposed the plan saying "Rwanda had not sufficiently addressed issues that resulted to the loss of its own lion population."
There isn't much genetic research on the puma (FYI: puma, cougar, mountain lion, catamount, panther... all the same thing, just depends on where you are and who you talk to). The scientific community seems to be quite torn about taxonomic assessment and there has been much debate around subspecies distinction, particularly in the case of using cougars in Texas to repopulate the Florida panther population. Some say they are distinct enough that they shouldn't be hybridized while others say they are the same so one can successfully repopulate the other. According to the Federal Register, "the best available information continues to support the assignment of the eastern taxon to Puma concolor couguar as distinct from other North American subspecies" based primarily on biology and life history.
The proposal to remove the eastern cougar from the endangered species list does not affect the status of the endangered Florida panther subspecies, a cluster of conservation genetics issues to discuss in more detail at another time. But, although the extinct animals will no longer be protected under the Endangered Species Act, which is intended to save animals and plants that still have a recorded population, it will also no longer be able to be used to protect similar animals, such as the Florida panther. Not sure if that matters since the Florida panther is already protected (and possibly diluted with Texas cougar) but its interesting nonetheless.
Crazy but true! A hilarious and informative expose on dog "breeds". I am rather fond of my mutt but I was also rather fond of my pure breeds - although Leah, Golden Retriever, did get cancer and Tucker, Australian Shepherd, had mental issues.
This month's Throwback Third Thursday (#tbtt) is a day late (so I guess its actually a Flashback Friday) and only looks back one day but for good reason: I didn't have time! The past few days I have been busy with the Genetics Graduate Student Association (GGSA) Spring Symposium featuring keynote speakers Dr. Bruce Budowle and Dr. Jeffrey Bennetzen. As Vice-President of GGSA, I was in charge of planning the event and it went GREAT! Our only criticism was there wasn't enough time for poster judging (but that was more of a venue availability problem than anything else). And what I am most grateful for, there was a good number of people who were incredibly helpful with set up and clean up. Amazing!
A white lion cub, a very rare color morph, has been causing quite a stir amongst visitors a Kruger National Park in the Republic of South Africa (mostly because he's so darn cute). This little rarity is a member of the Satara Pride and is one of only 13 wild white lions. White lions are so rare that none were seen in the wild from the early 1990's until 2006. And since 2006, only 16 white lions have been born and in only 5 lion prides, all in the Kruger/Timbavati region.
Why are they so rare?
White lions are a result of leucism, or lack of pigment which results in light coat and eyes. In lions, leucism is caused by getting a copy of a gene which has a recessive mutation from both mom and dad. For two tawny lions (the typical brown/tan color) to have a white lion cub, both lions would have to be carriers of the recessive allele, meaning they have the recessive copy but they display the dominant one.
It is quite possible that the statistics are way more complicated and that there may even be more than one way to be 'white.' It has been speculated that light coat in white lions with yellow eyes may we caused by a different gene than in white lions with blue eyes (the TYR gene versus a gene similar to what creates white cats and white tigers). Genomic analysis of big cats is just beginning but don't you worry, we're getting to the bottom of it!
2015 is turning out to be a pretty good year! I just got back from a long day at the College of Veterinary Medicine Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Symposium where I presented a poster on my preliminary results of the diversity and distribution of lions in Zambia and was the winner (that’s 1st place) for the graduate student poster presentations!!!!
As a graduate student, there will be times when you feel like a fraud. In an interdisciplinary program and a member of the college of veterinary medicine I am often surrounded by microbiologists, biochemists and veterinarians who’s use of medical jargon and super cellular hoopla puts my macro-brain into a tailspin. Today was such a day. I read many posters and listened to even more talks which exceeded my veterinary knowledge. So, I didn't think I was in the running to win an award. But, rather than let it get the best of me, I stayed for the entire symposium, listened and tried to broaden my scope.
I was literally shocked when I won and I feel incredibly honored. What I forget is how different my field, conservation genetics, is than medical based science. To others, my poster may have been just as confusing as fibroblastomas and hepatic lipidosis is to me. I was never really sure how my work compared and I sometimes worried my work wouldn't come across as being as impressive as others. This win was the confidence booster I needed to help me along and I am now SO ready to keep this streak going! Next… Big funding.
Tomorrow I am attending the International Plant and Animal Genome Conference XXIII (fondly referred to as PAG by those attending). And it's not only exciting because it's my first big conference and I will be there with a bunch of wonderful people from the Genetics program at Texas A&M but it is in San Diego and I am presenting my first graduate level poster! People are going to get their first official look at my research then I get to go home to mom and dad when I'm done. It's like the 1997 Greater San Diego Science & Engineering Fair all over again but instead of "The Color Attraction of Mice" I will be presenting on African lions in "Genetics and Genomics: Powerful Tools for Wildlife Conservation" (Oh how times have changed). It's a brand new year and I am starting it off with a bang. This poster represents the next big stage of my graduate career and the beginning of what I know is going to be a successful year. I am finished with my classes so now I can really focus on my research, prelims and making sure I don't get sick while doing it. I can't wait!
My level of excitement cannot be measured by conventional means....
Genetic modification along with their recurring theme of de-extinction.... CAN'T WAIT!
Some interesting news on the African lion front.... On October 27, 2014, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed listing the lion as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act – a similar listing to the current International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listing of “vulnerable”. The curious thing is that, for the most part, both sides, the activists and the hunting community, are considering this to be a win. The activists get some regulation but the hunters don’t get so much that they're banned. It will be interesting to see how it will all play out in the long run.
Prior to this decision the lion wasn’t listed under the USFWS Endangered Species Act at all; meaning, there were no US government mandated regulations for the species. Interestingly enough, however, USFWS recognizes African lion sub-species, a designation debated by many scientists and policy makers (especially since the discovery that the distinguishable fluffy mane of the Cape lion, thought to be an extinct sub-species, is simply a morphological result of colder weather, i.e. any lion can become a fluffy Cape lion if it’s chilly). Over the years, scientists have given 23 different scientific names to the African lion. Currently the IUCN Red List recognizes only the African and Asiatic sub-species while the Catalog of Life recognizes eleven sub-species (listed below) and USFWS recognizes four. According to the USFWS website, the new “threatened” designation only applies to Panthera leo ssp. leo. Panthera leo persica, the Asiatic lion, has been “endangered” since 1970 but Panthera leo ssp. melanochaita and Panthera leo ssp senegalensis remain “not listed”. Panthera leo ssp. leo is considered to be all lions on the African continent by IUCN but is considered to be the extinct North African Barbary lion in other circles. In the case of USFWS, it could be that Panthera leo ssp. leo is simply a new distinction which will encompass all African lions, as it does for IUCN, and they just haven’t removed Panthera leo ssp. melanochaita and Panthera leo ssp senegalensis from their list yet. Either way, some kind of agreement across organizations needs to happen if we think any kind of international/interorganization regulation is going to happen.
I am a biologist and my life is crap!