Tag Archives: Phylogeography

Puckett Lab Opening Fall 2018 at the University of Memphis

I am ecstatic to join the faculty at the University of Memphis as an Assistant Professor in the Biology Department.  The Puckett Lab will open Fall 2018 and focus on phylogeography and evolutionary genomics within the bear family.

If you are interested in joining the lab, please see the “Positions in the Lab” page for current information on positions.

Not on the Postdoc Market

Today is the first day of my postdoc with Jason Munshi-South at Fordham University! I’m super excited about starting this position and not just because I get to go to work everyday in a mansion (see below). The Munshi-South Lab focuses on adaptation to the urban environment. I think this is a really unique way to think about the forces that shape selection particularly rapid adaptation on shorter time scales. In 2009 the United Nations estimated half the world’s human population lived in urban areas and that the percentage will continue to rise. By studying species with both shorter generation times and closer contact with the urban environment (ex- pollutants, artificial lighting, linearized environments), we hope to gain an understanding of how selection responds to urbanization. This may provide insight into how humans are also adapting to urbanization.

The project that I will work on focuses on brown rats (Rattus norvegicus). Brown rats are not native to North America and were introduced via ships coming from Europe in the 1700-1800s. So before we can understand how selection has acted upon their genomes, we must first understand where their genomes came from as we hypothesize substantial admixture in North American populations. (Hmm, phylogeography and admixture, that sounds like something I know about.)

Beyond the project, I’m excited to work with new lab mates, always a fun part of science!

Calder Hall at the Louis Calder Center, Fordham University

Calder Hall at the Louis Calder Center, Fordham University

Dance Your PhD 2014 Submission

I wanted to enter the Dance Your PhD contest since before I was accepted into a PhD program!  Although never formally trained in dance, I did dance on my high school’s team and generally enjoyed the process.  So Dance Your PhD seemed totally up my alley combining art and science.

I had the vision for my dance mapped out in the second year of my PhD program.  While preparing an NSF DDIG and really thinking about both my hypotheses and the conservation implications of my work, the dance simply story-boarded out in my mind.  Specifically, I would combine my dissertation chapters on American black bear (Ursus americanus) phylogeography with its implications for wildlife trade.  Black bears experience a low amount of trade for traditional Asian medicine where the gallbladders and paws are thought to be medicinally useful.  By understanding genetic diversity throughout the range (as informed by the evolution of bear lineages), we can predict where an illegal sample came from, since the sample should have a genetic signature similar to its natal population. Even though I had the story mapped out, I didn’t want to dance my hypothses, I wanted to dance my data. So I sat on my dance until this year as I’m finishing up my dissertation.

Knowing the parts of my dissertation I wanted to convey led easily into the story of the interpretive dance. In the first scene, a bear (that’s me) is illegally hunted. In the second scene, I show the results of the phylogeography study. The appearance of the bears on screen signifies their speciation in North America. Over time the species expands its range and population size, all the while accumulating genetic variation which you can see slow emerge between the dancers in the east (stage right) and west (stage left). The bears are pushed south into glacial refugia. The group dance is meant to convey how even though genetic differentiation has already accumulated, they are still a single species. As the third scene begins, we come back to our illegally hunted bear who dances her genetic signature to try to find which broad region she belongs. After that broad lineage is identified, she is finally able to find her natal area within the whole species range.

The title of the piece, “No Way Home,” is a reference to Dave Wilcove’s book of the same name. The book describes multiple ways in which human induced landscape changes have affected animal migration routes. I use the title two ways. First, to recognize the impact of ongoing habitat fragmentation in limiting dispersal and gene flow in many species, not just bears. Second, to tie in the use of natal origin identification for wildlife trade application; although we can use genetics in this way, an illegally harvested animal no longer contributes it’s genes to the population. Therefore, through habitat fragmentation or illegal harvest, there is, “No Way Home” for many animals.

I first heard “Wapsuk,” by Kathleen Edwards when she opened for Bon Iver in 2011. She told the audience the story of being an artist invited on an expedition to Wapsuk National Park in Manitoba, Canada where she saw polar bears (Ursus maritimus) for the first time. Immediately, I sat up and took note, because it was a song about bears! Two hours later as I walked to the car (after an amazing set by Bon Iver), I started singing Wapsuk, and that’s when I knew that it HAD to be the song for my Dance Your PhD submission.

A final note about my dance: I dedicated it to the staff (past, present, and future) of the UNCG All Arts and Sciences Camp and specifically to camp’s long time Executive Director Bob Prout. That was the summer camp I attended then worked at when I was younger. Camp was my absolutely favorite thing/place/week that I looked forward to all year long. The dedication is just my tiny way of saying thank you for all you do to create fun and formative experiences for us art and science nerds. I can not fully express how very much camp means to me, still to this day.