The Department genetics lab is shared by the two research institutes at Wilhelminenberg. Many questions in ecology and evolution can only be answered through the application of molecular genetic techniques. The genetics lab is concerned with answering many of these questions and further developing molecular tools that can be applied to wildlife species. We support a broad range of research themes in the fields of behavioural ecology, physiology, reproductive biology, ecological genomics and wildlife management.
The lab routinely conducts estimates of mating systems and parentage in natural populations. We also investigate the phylogenetic relationships between populations and species from many parts of the world. Levels of genetic diversity are important indicators of population resilience and we examine spatial or temporal changes in these levels for many species to track their responses to different habitats and environmental variables. We are also interested in estimating migration rates and the barriers to gene flow between populations which may restrict their movement across the landscape. Another topic of interest is the assessment of variability at immune system genes such as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) and how this relates to individual fitness and population viability. Finally we are very interested in the link between mitochondrial function, oxidative stress, and DNA damage via the shortening of telomeres (the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes).
We have a well-equipped molecular laboratory with the capacity to perform nucleic acid purifications from modern and museum samples, standard DNA sequencing, microsatellite fragment analysis, end-point and real-time PCR, gene expression analysis, and gel electrophoresis. An automated PCR robot also allows for high throughput sample set-up and library preparation for next generation sequencing technologies (NGS). Our genetic expertise covers a wide spectrum of taxa including birds, mammals, fish, insects and bacteria. We are experienced in wildlife forensic applications and routinely work with problematic tissues such as dried blood, faeces, feathers, buccal swabs and hair samples.