CCEG scientists are at the forefront of the emerging fields of evolutionary and conservation genetics. They were the first to analyze and document the decrease in survival and reproductive success caused by inbreeding in zoo animals, and took the lead in developing solutions such as software for genetic management. They were among the first to develop methods of non-invasive genotyping to identify species and individuals, and to estimate kinship and population sizes of animals in natural populations. They developed novel ancient DNA protocols and were pioneers in applying these methods to issues of conservation importance, as well as to unraveling the evolutionary histories of extinct and endangered species. And they have been leaders in applying genetic methods to diagnose and study emerging pathogens responsible for sometimes devastating wildlife diseases.
CCEG works to understand and conserve biodiversity through genetic research. It applies genetic theory and methods creatively to gain knowledge about the evolutionary and life histories of animals, to understand the importance of genetic variation to their survival, and to identify the methods needed to sustain them in captivity and the wild.
CCEG research projects involve a broad methodological repertoire, often including field studies, DNA laboratory, theoretical and genetic management analyses. Many CCEG research studies are collaborative with other scientists at the National Zoo, National Museum of Natural History, elsewhere at the Smithsonian, and with other zoo and academic researchers. CCEG provides important service to the National Zoo and conservation community by developing genetic management plans for animals in zoos around the world, providing advice to agencies and non-governmental organizations, and applying molecular genetic methods to document conservation management units and identify individual gender, kin relationships, and pathogens. CCEG scientists also participate in scientific training and outreach; teaching students and the public about conservation biology and how genetic theory and methods contribute to its ends.
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute scientists analyzed the genes of these great cats in the Satpura-Maikal landscape—a 15,000 square kilometers area composed of four interconnected reserves: Kanha, Satpura, Melghat and Pench. From April-June 2009 and November 2009-May 2010, they collected scat (fecal matter) and hair samples for DNA analysis. This data, combined with India’s forest ecology history, enabled SCBI scientists to construct a definitive picture of how habitat loss affects the genetic diversity and gene flow of cat populations. Published in Evolutionary Applications and Proceedings of the Royal Society B, their research demonstrates that an intact forest corridor is vital for maintaining gene flow in these great cats. more
As rapid economic expansion continues to shape the Asian landscape on which many species depend, time is running out for conservationists aiming to save wildlife such as tigers and leopards. Scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have used genetic analysis to find that the natural forest corridors in India are essential to ensuring a future for these species. According to two studies recently published in two papers, these corridors are successfully connecting populations of tigers and leopards to ensure genetic diversity and gene flow. more