Research in the conservation biology group is focused on empirical conservation and evolutionary genetics of animals, but also includes conceptual and theoretical studies incorporating genetics, ecology and evolution. The research team is merging current efforts in evolutionary and ecological genetics, complemented with molecular genetics and macroecology, to understand how variation at the genetic level can explain variation in functional traits. For further information, please see below projects:
Conservation genomics of Nordic dog breeds
Bottlenecks and intensive selection have contributed to low effective population size for many dog breeds, augmenting the likelihood of losing genetic variation and for mating between related individuals, leading to inbreeding.
We are involved in a project with researchers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway, where DNA collected from Nordic dog breeds is analyzed on single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) chips encompassing thousands of genetic markers. The results will be used to identify and quantify genetic variation between individuals and breeds. This joint Nordic cooperation provides information for quantifying the degree of inbreeding and genetic variation within and between breeds, and in finding areas of the genome implicated in certain genetic diseases. These results can be used to improve breeding programs for the Nordic dog breeds so that loss of genetic variation and inbreeding are reduced.
Reducing the chance risk of extinction of the endangered European bison
The aim of this project is to screen the genetic composition and its changes in time of the European bison (Bison bonasus, L) population living in the Bialowieza forests in Poland, and, on basis of this genetic information, to design the most appropriate breeding strategy for the herds held in captivity. After the Bialowieza bison went extinct in 1919, it was reintroduced based on seven founder individuals. Such a small group of founders led most likely to a severe bottleneck, i.e. a strong reduction in genetic variability, which is a prerequisite for adapting to environmental changes.
To get an idea of how much variation is lost we compare the genetic composition of the Bialowieza population after the reintroduction with that before the extinction event, using ancient DNA techniques based on the extraction of DNA from degraded tissues or bones. This information will then be used to build a breeding strategy to minimize the risk of genetic erosion and ultimately extinction, and instead to favour long-term persistence of the European bison.
Native livestock breeds
Saving rare native livestock breeds from extinction by devising breeding and management strategies that exploit new DNA technology.
Rare native livestock breeds are an important genetic resource for several reasons. Genetic diversity found in old livestock breeds is critical for sustainable agricultural production, and old livestock breeds are an integral part of Nordic culture and history. Genetically distinct breeds may also be valuable for identification of important genes and genetic mechanisms/networks.
Our aim is to use new genetic tools and population viability analysis (PVA) to devise breeding and management strategies that help reduce the extinction risk for rare Danish livestock breeds. We will (1) identify genetic, demographic, environmental, and catastrophic factors that threaten rare breeds with extinction; employ this information to (2) predict extinction risk, and (3) devise and evaluate breeding and management strategies that reduce or eliminate the impact of these threats. We will evaluate both neutral and adaptive genetic loci using new DNA technology in the form of genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers.
The project aims at investigating the genomes of wild and domestic pigs to address several questions on the species' conservation status and importance as a vector for diseases.
The two main aspects under analysis are the level of hybridization between the wild boar and the domestic pig in Europe and the possible genomic differences between healthy and African Swine Fever (ASF) infected individuals. The first as a proxy of diseases diffusion route (ASF, zoonoses etc) but also as a threat to native breeds and to the environment, considering that hybrids are likely to show genetic and behavioural modifications. While the second aims at identifying regions of the genome that might lead to increased sensitivity or resistance to the ASF infection.
ASF is a notifiable devastating hemorrhagic fever with high mortality rates in pigs. It affects all members of the Suidae family and is one of the most important pig diseases due to its severe socio-economic consequences for affected countries, the difficulty of preventing spread across country boundaries, and the lack of vaccine and therapeutic control measures. For this reason, identifying regions that might influence the individuals sensitivity to the infection would be of high relevance.
Conservation biology in co-operation with Aalborg Zoo
In a new project we are working on getting the little owl (Athene nuctua) to Aalborg Zoo for exhibition and breeding. The little owl is on the brink of extinction in Denmark mainly due to lack of suitable habitat. The little owl in the Zoo will hopefully forward awareness of the habitat loss and special value of the little owl.
Aalborg Zoo supports “Transfrontier Africa” (TA) which is a non-governmental organisation in South Africa working on research in conservation biology and anti-poaching. The project focuses on tracking elephants but also work with their habitat and other endangered wildlife such as rhinoceros and African wild dog.