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Influence of colonization regime, time since establishment, and site-specific variation on patterns of selection, genes under selection, and rapid evolution in distinct swift fox (Vulpes velox) populations


Teaching Faculty: Donelle (Doni) Schwalm, PhD, University of Maine at Farmington

The process of colonization and recolonization is central to species persistence, in particular during periods of intense environmental change. Myriad factors influence the probability of successful colonization, including the adaptive capacity of the species, which is shaped by both phenotypic plasticity and genotypic diversity. Increasing capacity to sequence large portions of species’ genomes in non-model organisms, combined with comparative functional genomics approaches, has significantly advanced our ability to elucidate rapid evolutionary response, and the genes which fuel this response, during colonization events in wildlife populations. However, the bulk of empirical data thus far focuses on colonization of urban habitats or invasive species over natural habitats or native species, and few studies have considered the effects of diverse colonization conditions on rapid evolutionary outcomes. In addition, the interplay between colonization regime, time since colonization, and rapid evolution remains unexplored. This project will begin to address these knowledge gaps by examining rapid evolutionary outcomes in swift fox populations occurring in separate colonization fronts. These colonization fronts represent differing selection pressures and a range of times since colonization. By using standard and next-generation sequencing approaches, paired with bioinformatics tools for sequence assembly, alignment, and gene function identification, we will quantify population-specific signatures of selection, identify specific genes under selection and link selection to described gene function. The proposed work promises to provide unique empirical insights into the genetic underpinnings of colonization while also generating considerable novel sequence data for a non-model organisms and new insights into the role of previously describe gene function in ecological processes. Specific project aims are to 1) measure genetic diversity and structure in each study population, 2) generate sequence variation data across the species’ genome; 3) identify variants under selection and 4) link variants to known genes and previously identified gene function.


The project provides laboratory training to students interested in biomedical research. The project will engage students and faculty in research methodologies not currently in use at UMF, expanding the suite of learning opportunities for students. This provides an opportunity to increase understanding of and interest in biomedical research in undergraduate students in rural Maine, a traditionally underserved community.

Schwalm Lab at UMaine Farmington