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image of lake sturgeon Lake sturgeon
(Acipenser fulvescens)

Many lake sturgeon populations in the Great Lakes are far below their historic population size and we are conducting several genetic projects to better manage this species. These projects include:

holding a forest hawkNorth American forest hawks
(Genus: Accipiter)

Our forest hawk study focuses on the three North American Accipiter species: The Northern goshawk (A. gentilis), the Cooper’s hawk (A. cooperii), and the Sharp-shinned hawk (A. striatus). This study has two major objectives. The first is to understand the contemporary genetic composition and structure of each of the three species’ populations in the northeastern United States. In particular, we are using microsatellites to determine if genetic bottlenecks occurred as a result of population declines in the 1970’s, which were presumably from the widespread use of the pesticide DDT. Further, we are interested in comparing current genetic status of each species given the stark contrast in population size recovery between the three species.

The second objective of this study focuses specifically on the Cooper’s hawk, the most common and widespread of the three Accipiter species. For this objective, we are interested in understanding if there are genetic sequence or gene expression differences between Cooper’s hawks nesting in urban areas compared to more traditional rural areas. Given the rate of urbanization on a global scale, it is important to understand how urbanization affects the genetics of populations, especially predators such as the Cooper’s hawk, as they are important for controlling pest species in urban ecosystems. (Funding: Daniel C. and Elizabeth D. Brown Fund)

image of bobcatBobcat
(Lynx rufus)

Bobcats are an important game species in the state of West Virginia; however, estimates of the population size have not been updated. The primary goal of this project is to use DNA obtained from hair samples to estimate the size of the bobcat population. Genetic data will also be incorporated with habitat models to understand the movement patterns of bobcats. These results will help refine population models, providing additional information that will be useful in assessing harvest limits. (Funding: West Virginia Division of Natural Resources)

image of railKing & Clapper Rails
(Rallus elegans & R. longirostris)

This study focuses on a multidisciplinary effort to distinguish these two closely related species in eastern Virginia. Genomics, as well as auditory and habitat analyses, will be used to identify reliable traits that can separate these rails and identify potential hybrids (Funding: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries)

image of white-tailed deer in woodsWhite-tailed deer
(Odocoileus virginianus)

White-tailed deer are of great economic value and intrinsic importance for West Virginia and surrounding states. However, since the initial detection of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Hampshire County, WV in 2005, a continual effort to monitor and control the spread of the disease has included ongoing testing for CWD and collection of geo-referenced tissue samples from hunter-harvested, sniper-selected and road-killed individuals. Our first objective for this study is to identify genetic neighborhoods and relate them to fine-scale landscape attributes. The second objective is to determine landscape characteristics facilitating or restricting dispersal of male white-tailed deer, the likely transmitters of the disease. (Funding: West Virginia Division of Natural Resources)

image of brook troutBrook trout
(Salvelinus fontinalis)

Our brook trout study focuses on the Upper Shavers Fork near Snowshoe, WV. Although the area is remote, a railroad created in the early 1900’s to support the forestry industry caused many of the headwater streams to become fragmented from the mainstem stream section through the implementation of culverts. The focus of this project is to determine if these culverts have resulted in a loss of genetic diversity and increased fragmentation in brook trout, and if replacement/retrofitting current culverts could restore gene flow. (Funding: WVU Faculty Senate Research Grant)

In collaboration with the University of Connecticut, we are beginning a landscape genetic study of headwater brook trout populations in Connecticut. A combination of GIS and genetics will be used to try to explain patterns of variation among the populations. (Funding: CT DEEP Inland Fisheries Division)

image of hand holding waterthrushLouisiana waterthrush
(Parkesia motacilla)

We are collaborating with Dr. Petra Wood and Ph.D. student Mack Frantz (WVU) to study epigenetic variation in the Louisiana Waterthrush. This bird is a habitat specialist that prefers to breed in streams in contiguous forested tracts. Although the Louisiana Waterthrush showed no immediate demographic differences due to oil and gas well development at Lewis Wetzel Wildlife Management Area in Jacksonburg, WV, it is not known whether well development may influence DNA methylation (epigenetic) variation in the population. Since birds can serve as good indicators of terrestrial point-source pollution, this research will determine how oil and gas well development and possible environmental stressors (e.g., stream contaminants) influence Louisiana Waterthrush DNA methylation between individuals nesting at impacted and non-impacted streams.

image of largemouth bassLargemouth bass
(Micropterus salmoides)

We are collaborating with Dr. Jason Vokoun and Ph.D. student Jan-Michael Hessenauer (University of Connecticut) to use population genetics to contrast exploited and unexploited populations of largemouth bass. Connecticut is somewhat unique in that there are several water supply reservoirs that have been closed to fishing since they were built almost 100 years ago. We are moving individuals out of one such reservoir to conduct an introgression experiment where individuals in the unexploited population and another exploited population are being stocked into a small lake open to fishing. After each of the next two spawning seasons, we will collect age-0 individuals and determine the population of origin of their parents using assignment techniques. Our objective is to determine the fitness of the parental stocks, the nature of the introgression (e.g., dominated by mothers or fathers), and the potential for supplemental stocking of unfished individuals to influence population genetic diversity. (Funding: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Inland Fisheries Division through the Sport Fish Restoration program and the University of Connecticut Department of Natural Resources and Environment through a James V. Spignesi Memorial Fellowship)

image of freshwater musselsFreshwater mussels
(Actinonaias ligamentina)

This project examined genetic differentiation between three populations of mucket using microsatellite loci. A bridge was being constructed and the mucket population would be relocated. The genetic results were used to identify the most appropriate place to relocate the impacted population. (Funding: WV Department of Transportation)