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Conservation Genomics Internship Non-invasive Monitoring of a Reintroduced Population of Swift Foxes in Fort Belknap

This internship has closed. To see open and upcoming opportunities, visit the internships page.

An internship research opportunity is available with the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute's Center for Conservation Genomics (CCG). The CCG group works to understand and conserve biodiversity through application of genomics and genetics approaches. Scientists creatively apply genetic theory and methods to gain knowledge about the evolutionary and life histories of animals, to understand the importance of genetic variation to their survival, and to identify methods needed to sustain them in human care and in the wild. CCG researchers specialize in genetic management of wild and populations in human care, genomics, non-invasive DNA, environmental DNA, ancient DNA, systematics, disease diagnosis and dynamics, genetic service to the zoo community, and applications of genetic methods to animal behavior and ecology. 

This internship focuses on non-invasive genetic monitoring of reintroduction success in swift foxes in Fort Belknap, Montana. This is a multi-disciplinary, collaborative project with a goal of understanding reintroduction success in swift foxes (Vulpes velox). Swift foxes were extirpated from the northern Great Plains by the early 20th century due to predator removal practices. Members of the Assiniboine (Nakoda) and Gros Ventre (Aaniiih) Nations have begun a reintroduction program on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. We are using non-invasive genomics techniques to monitor foxes after release and to test the hypothesis that genetic diversity will positively correlate with fitness in the reintroduced animals. This is possible because of extensive behavioral, movement, and population monitoring data collected by Smithsonian ecologists which will then be correlated with genotypic data by utilizing a method that we designed to genotype foxes using scat samples. The intern will be trained in and perform laboratory methods including DNA extraction, quantification and visualization, genomic DNA library preparation – specifically methods accommodating low-quantity, low-quality DNA, in-solution hybridization enrichment, preparing libraries for Illumina sequencing, and bioinformatics pipelines to analyze DNA sequence data. The intern will also participate in the development of peer-reviewed manuscripts. The results of this project will be essential to determine the success of this translocation effort. This project may be of interest to students interested in population genetics or conservation genetics.

The intern will be based at the CCG lab at the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C.

Learning Objectives: 

Through this internship experience, the participant will receive training in molecular genetic tools, including both laboratory and bioinformatic processes — particularly those relevant to non-invasive wildlife genetics — study design, statistical data analysis, and preparing oral and written communications for diverse audiences.

Mentees will conduct research on the presence, distribution, and recapture rates of swift foxes using genetic analysis of non-invasively collected scat samples. Interns will also participate in weekly lab meetings and journal club discussions. Our program is designed to provide guidance to students for the skills necessary to pursue academic careers and graduate education. We hope that with this training, students will obtain a broader view of the field of evolutionary biology and its applications to conservation biology and wildlife management.


The qualified candidate should have received a bachelor’s or master’s degree in one of the relevant fields, or be currently pursuing one of the degrees with completion before December 2023.

Required skills and background:

  • Major or coursework in molecular biology, genetics, population genetics, evolutionary biology and/or conservation biology
  • Familiarity and experience with micropipettes
  • Detail-oriented and familiar with sterile techniques
  • Willingness and enthusiasm to learn new things
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Strong communication skills

Preferred skills:

  • Some experience with molecular genetics laboratory protocols, particularly non-invasive genetics/eDNA sampling (including DNA extraction, PCR, and/or library preparation, etc.)
  • Some experience with ecological sampling and study design, coursework and/or training in basic statistical data analysis
  • Familiarity with Microsoft Excel,
  • Comfortable working with others in an office and laboratory environment.
  • Statement on diversity, equity, and inclusion:

The CCG lab aims to foster an inclusive, supportive, and collaborative environment. We believe and acknowledge that our scientific community is enriched and strengthened by diverse perspectives and identities along multiple dimensions including, but not limited to, ethnicity and national origin, gender and gender identity, class, religion, sexuality, and ability. We are committed to increasing representation of those populations that have been historically excluded from scientific communities and encourage applications from members of minoritized or marginalized groups.     

The position includes a stipend of $2500 per month when engaged full-time.
Washington DC
The intern will make his or her own housing arrangements in the Washington, D.C., area.
The National Zoo and the Smithsonian Institution do not provide free parking to interns.
Term of appointment: 
The appointment is full-time to commence in winter 2023 and estimated to last 6 months, with possibility of renewal. Those currently pursuing their degree could negotiate for part-time during the semester and full-time during the summer. 
Application deadline(s): 
Thursday, December 15, 2022
Internship Category: 
Animal Programs
How to Apply: 

Send a single PDF containing a cover letter, resume and contact list of references to Dr. Jesus Maldonado maldonadoj@si.edu by December 15, 2022. Indicate “Swift Fox Genetics Internship:” in the subject line.