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USGS Mendenhall Postdoctoral  Research Fellowship Program

14-34. Climate change, land-use change, and species of conservation concern: application of novel genomic tools to understand species vulnerability and biological responses

Knowledge about habitat needs and connectivity among groups or populations of threatened or endangered species and how they will respond to changing environments is essential to assess their long-term viability.  Extraordinary new advances in genomic techniques now allow for increased understanding about movements, landscape ecology, genetic structure of populations, and responses to environmental changes related to population declines, yet such techniques have only recently begun to be used to aid the conservation and management of threatened and endangered species. Comprehensive datasets exist for three related, yet distinctive species of considerable conservation concern, Greater Sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), Gunnison Sage-grouse (C. minimus), and White-tailed Ptarmigan (....Lagopus leucura).  The challenges facing each of these species are unique, yet similarities in life history and habitat needs provide the opportunity to explore multi-species analyses.

We seek a postdoctoral fellow to apply cutting edge genomic techniques to management questions for landscape-level ecological systems that are facing drastic changes due to increasing anthropogenic developments, changing climate, or both. Genomic techniques facilitate the examination of hundreds of thousands of regions of DNA in thousands of individuals spanning vast geographic areas, providing a better understanding of the evolutionary forces at play within a species and across a landscape. This methodology offers a novel approach to disentangle the influences of gene flow and genetic drift from natural selection, which will help managers better define distinct populations and better predict how climate change and anthropogenic stressors (e.g., habitat loss and fragmentation due to energy development) will influence populations subjected to various selection agents. Additionally, such methods may allow for the identification of key traits (e.g., those associated with shifts in phenology or drought tolerance) so that management may focus specifically on maintaining adaptive genetic potential, in light of current anthropogenic stressors (Stapley et al. 2010).

Genomic techniques are extremely powerful, yet have not been applied generally in non-model species, although this obstacle is quickly being overcome (Bi et al. 2012, Grover et al. 2012).  As such, the focus of research under this Opportunity can be flexible, allowing for either a single species or multiple species approach to developing, applying, and evaluating these methods.  Next generation sequencing and genomic marker development (single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs) are in progress for all three species and other genomic methods could be investigated and developed as well (e.g., transcriptomics).  An extensive set of DNA samples for all species are available for use, ranging from intense sampling within populations, to broader sampling from across populations or the range of a species.  Additionally, exceptional demographic and landscape data exist for all systems. This provides us with a unique opportunity to capture and interpret results in a manner that will allow a depth of understanding into a system never before attainable. Likewise, the pioneering efforts of this research will serve as a model for further studies into this field.

This Mendenhall project is highly relevant and the Fellow will contribute directly to the assessment of the impacts of climate and land-use (here in the form of energy and/or urban development) change. Both species of Sage-grouse are at risk from significant energy development and other anthropogenic stresses, as well as more long-term impacts from a changing climate. White-tailed ptarmigan are a species that suffers much less from land-use change but has already shown significant negative impacts due to climate change. Applying the cutting edge genomic methods to analysis of any of these species alone, or in concert, will provide vital clues into the impacts of climate and land-use change on wildlife species. The Mendenhall Fellow’s research will be a component of larger research projects that are examining the response of three grouse species to increased anthropogenic development and/or changes in climate through changes in behavior, demography, and/or adaptation using unique datasets that have been compiled for each species. The Fellow’s research is expected to be incorporated into biological response models for the species involved, which will help provide information specific to managing these important species in ecosystems particularly vulnerable to development and climate change. The most profound aspect of this research, however, is the potential to identify functionally important genes, targeting conservation efforts to maintaining adaptive genetic potential, particularly given projected changes to climate and landscapes.


Bi K, Vanderpool D, Singhal S, Linderoth T, Mortiz C, Good JM (2012) Transcriptome-based exon capture enables highly cost-effective comparative genomic data collection at moderate evolutionary scales. BMC Genomics 13:403-417.

Grover CE, Salmon A, Wendell JF (2012) Targeted sequence capture as a powerful tool for evolutionary analysis. American Journal of Botany 99:312-319.

Stapley J,  Reger J, Feulner P,  Smadja C, et al.  (2010) Adaptation genomics: the next generation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25:705-712.

Proposed Duty Station: Fort Collins, CO

Areas of Ph.D.:  Ecology, Wildlife Biology, Genetics, Bioinformatics or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines but with knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet one of the following qualifications - Research Geneticist, Research Wildlife Biologist, Research Ecologist, Research Biologist, Computer Scientist.

(The type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above. However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant’s background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of theposition will be made by the Human Resources specialist).

Research Advisors: Sara Oyler-McCance, (970) 226-9197,; Cameron Aldridge (Colorado State U), (970) 226-9433,

Human Resources Office Contact: Jennifer Daberkow, (303) 236-9566,

Go back to Summary of Opportunities

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
URL: Oyler-McCance.htm
Direct inquiries to Rama K. Kotra at
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Last modified: 10:01:33 Wed 24 Jul 2013
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