A significant number of new research projects use molecular markers as a powerful new tool to better understand what wildlife is doing in their natural habitat. This is especially relevant to species that are difficult to observe directly. In addition, many of these insights can be obtained non-invasively by examination of fecal samples or naturally shed hair and feathers. Recent ConGen studies have elucidated the densities of tigers and leopards in Malaysia by DNA isolation from fecal samples collected in the forest.
Taking advantage of ConGen's expertise in population biology, the department provides support and advice for population management of endangered species translocation and reintroduction efforts. Research on viability analysis and statistically significant monitoring of wild populations is a component of this program. Recent examples of this research include the development of plans for captive breeding and reintroduction of the Chinese alligator and a new program for scarlet macaws in Guatemala.
The use of molecular markers to help monitor the commercial trade in wildlife and assist law enforcement authorities in controlling that trade represents a growing area of research in the ConGen. Assisting the both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture, recent ConGen research has resulted in the seizures of illegally traded products from African monkeys and skins from fur seals.
Our collaboration with Panthera involves providing technical assistance, individual genotyping, collaborative research on genetic threats, collaborative research in molecular ecology, technical training, sample and data archiving, and a web based central source for related information relevant to global felid conservation. Our Comparative Genomics Laboratory uses the latest techniques in conservation biology to conduct critically important research and design conservation management plans.
Genetic research is the largest area of effort within ConGen. This program works on genetics issues confronting small, fragmented populations in threatened habitats. Research to ameliorate the threats of inbreeding and loss of genetic variation are important contributions of this program. Another significant area involves an assessment of conservation units, and the use of systematics for establishing conservation priorities. Past examples of this research include a genetic assessment and plan for the St. Vincent Amazon Parrot, St.
DNA barcoding has been proposed as an important advance in molecular biology for rapidly and cost-efficiently using a short reference sequence of DNA to help catalog and inventory biodiversity. It is designed to provide an agreed-upon framework for an applied approach to cataloging species and to making the information available to managers and decision makers as well as the scientific community.