Isla Duporge Abstract:
Historically, natural history museums have collected and preserved specimens to provide data on the occurrence and distribution of wildlife populations. Ethologists still track animals by recording footprints, collecting dung and spoor and observing, recording and quantifying behaviour from the ground. However, these traditional observational techniques allow only a few populations to be monitored at once at limited spatial scales, and disturbance from ground observation and observations in semi-captivity disrupts observation of natural behaviours. We are now in a golden era of technological advances enabling remote monitoring of animals in the wild using high-resolution earth observation satellite data and UAVs, which can be combined with AI for data post-processing. However, significant methodological challenges remain in applying these new technologies to understand collective animal behaviour. I am working on several projects spanning satellite monitoring of ungulates, action recognition of primates from UAV, and understanding seismic communication of elephants to improve surveillance methods and better understand various animals’ umwelts in an attempt to protect them during the sixth mass extinction.
Stephen Gaughran Abstract:
We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, with the current rate of extinction estimated to be orders of magnitude higher than background rates. While we have made significant progress in developing pragmatic strategies that can help save a species from extinction, we still have a relatively poor understanding of extinction as a biological process. I take a comparative population genomics approach to studying extinction by sequencing genomes of species that are abundant, endangered, or recently extinct. Using patterns of heterozygosity across the genome, I reconstruct the demographic history of several seal species to show that endangered or extinct species have long-term small population sizes compared to species that are abundant today. I also show that genomes of bottlenecked species harbor more putatively deleterious alleles than those of abundant species, but genomes of species with long-term small populations do not. Finally, I use population genetic analyses to reveal how positive selection shaped the evolution of immune genes in an extinct species of seal, opening the possibility of reconstructing complex molecular phenotypes of extinct species.