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Research

Our new eDNA lab is up and running!

By | Research

This past week, Dr. Kristina Cammen and undergraduate research assistant, Liz Piotrowski, collected their first eDNA water samples at the Marine Mammals of Maine (MMoME) triage facility located in Harpswell, Maine. Thank you to Dominique Walk, MMoME’s assistant stranding coordinator, and several MMoME interns for their collaboration in this effort.

eDNA, short for environmental DNA, is free floating DNA that is left behind by an organism as it travels through an environment. We are working to develop protocols that will allow us to isolate and characterize this DNA, for example from a water sample collected in a seal rehab pool and ultimately from seawater samples collected near seal haul-out sites. Our hope is that these non-invasive sampling methods will enable future investigations of the genetic diversity and population structure of seals in the Gulf of Maine.

9/29/18: Updated to add that our first attempts to detect and sequence seal DNA from the MMoME facility have been successful!  We are now working to optimize our protocols so that we can distinguish between individuals that are present in the same pool of water.

New publication – Genomic signatures of population bottleneck and recovery in Northwest Atlantic pinnipeds

By | Publication

The recent recovery of gray and harbor seals in the Northwest Atlantic, following historical exploitation and subsequent protection, provides a natural “experiment” in which to evaluate the impact of changes in population size and distribution on genetic diversity.  It is a rare opportunity to test evolutionary theories, for example that genetic bottlenecks will reduce diversity (in extreme cases, leading to inbred populations), in a natural population.  With a genomic approach, called RAD sequencing, we evaluated how diversity has changed over time and space in multiple cohorts of gray and harbor seals sampled over the past half-century.  Our findings clearly show that signatures of historical bottleneck remain in the genomes of the species today, but also find high contemporary diversity, suggesting the species are not inbred.  Interestingly, we find higher diversity in gray seals than harbor seals, which may have important implications for species fitness, a point we’d like to continue to investigate moving forward.

Co-authors on this paper include collaborators from the Duke University Marine Lab, NOAA NEFSC, Canada DFO, Tufts University, and St. Mary’s University.  If you’re interested in other research we’ve done on this topic, check out our comparison of contemporary and archaeological seals from this region.

A full, freely available copy of our new open-source paper can be found here, or feel free to contact me directly for more information.

Cammen KM, Bowen WD, Hammill MO, Puryear WB, Runstadler J, Wenzel FW, Wood SA, Frasier TR, Kinnison M (accepted) Genomic signatures of population bottleneck, recovery, and expansion in Northwest Atlantic pinnipeds. Ecology and Evolution.

 

Summer fieldwork in Eastport

By | Research, Student News

Liz Piotrowski scans for marine mammals in Western Passage using BigEyes.

This summer, undergraduate research assistants, Emma Newcomb and Liz Piotrowski, are leading a shore-based marine mammal visual monitoring program in Western Passage, a promising site for future tidal energy power. Once a week, they travel to Eastport, ME to conduct a 4-hour visual observation period, which later this summer will be supplemented by passive acoustic monitoring for marine mammal vocalizations (led by Chris Tremblay in Gayle Zydlewski’s lab). In their first month of observations, Emma and Liz have observed harbor porpoise, harbor seal, and minke whale.

Emma Newcomb looks out over Western Passage in search of marine mammals.

 

This research is conducted in collaboration with Ocean Renewal Power Company. Emma’s summer internship, which also includes a historical analysis of marine mammal stranding rates in Maine, is funded by the SEA Fellows program.

 

 

Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund supports research on pinnipeds in the Penobscot River

By | Lab News, Research

Our proposal entitled, Assessing predator risk to diadromous fish conservation in the Penobscot River Estuary, has received funding from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund. With this funding, we are excited to develop new collaborations with Justin Stevens and Christine Lipsky, of the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Atlantic Salmon Ecosystems Research Team, and Mitch Simpson at Maine Department of Marine Resources’ Division of Sea-Run Fisheries.  The funding will support an analysis of existing and ongoing datasets on marine mammal abundance on the Penobscot River, which have been collected for the past five years during NOAA’s monthly or bimonthly surveys of the river.  Combined with their data on fish abundance from hydracoustic and trawl surveys, and DMR’s data on observed injuries on salmon at the Penobscot River dams, we hope to better understand the potential impact of seal populations on local salmon and sturgeon.

A secondary aim of this proposal is to begin to develop a seal photo-identification research program on the Penobscot River.  This portion of the research will begin next summer, so stay tuned for some seal photos on an upcoming project website!

Students present at UMaine Symposia

By | Presentation, Student News

This week three undergraduate students in the Cammen lab presented their research at UMaine student research symposia. Please join us in congratulating the students for their excellent poster presentations!

Faythe Goins presented her honors thesis research, Environmental Impacts on Loggerhead Sea Turtle Nesting on Edisto Island, SC, at the 2018 UMaine Student Symposium and won best poster presentation in Natural Sciences!  She also presented her research at the School of Marine Sciences Capstone Symposium, and will publicly defend her thesis next week.

 

Kai LaSpina presented preliminary results from her Capstone research, Investigating the relationship of mass stranding events and genetic relatedness in the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, Lagenorhynchus acutus, at the 2018 UMaine Student Symposium. Stay tuned for future results and presentations of Kai’s research!

 

Sarah Vincze presented her senior Capstone research, An analysis of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) unusual mortality events along Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coastline in association with Karenia brevis blooms, at the School of Marine Sciences Capstone symposium.

New publication – Comparing DNA of archaeological and contemporary seals

By | Publication

We are pleased to announce the recent publication of our study of genetic diversity among archaeological and contemporary gray and harbor seals from the Northwest Atlantic.  In our paper, we describe finding greater genetic diversity in both seal populations prior to the bounties of the early and mid-1900s.  We further present evidence that is consistent with the potential loss of a historical Maine subpopulation of gray seals.  These findings are significant to the discussion of how to manage gray and harbor seals today as their populations recover along parts of Maine, Massachusetts, and the Canadian Maritimes.

The co-authors on this paper include undergraduate Sarah Vincze, graduate student Sky Heller, and professor Mike Kinnison from the University of Maine, as well as collaborators from NOAA NEFSC, Canada DFO, Tufts University, and St. Mary’s University.  The project was enhanced by the diverse perspectives of geneticists, ecologists, field biologists, and archaeologists.

Our paper can be found here, or feel free to contact me directly for more information.

Cammen KM, Vincze S, Heller AS, McLeod BA, Wood SA, Bowen WD, Hammill MO, Puryear WB, Runstadler J, Wenzel FW, Kinnison M, Frasier TR (2018) Genetic diversity from bottleneck to recovery in two sympatric pinniped species in the Northwest Atlantic. Conservation Genetics. 19: 555-569.

 

A month of presentations

By | Presentation

This past month has been a wonderful whirlwind of work-related travel, to and from Canada (twice!) and roundabout Maine.  I kicked off the month with a trip to the University of New Brunswick in St. John to give an invited seminar to the Biology Department. The following week, I ferried across the Bay of Fundy to the Society for Marine Mammalogy biennial conference held this year in Halifax.  Finally, earlier this week I gave a seminar at Maine Maritime Academy.

These varied opportunities provided a great avenue to share our research with diverse audiences – from students to faculty, and from stakeholders to managers – in diverse formats – from a 4 minute speed-talk to 1-hr seminars.  I was particularly excited to speak about cross-border marine mammal issues in both Canada and the US, and I enjoyed meeting many new people as well as catching up with old friends and colleagues.  Thank you to Scott Pavey, Jessica Muhlin, and SMM for hosting my visits!

Cammen KM (2017) Molecular perspectives on conservation success: a tale of two seals in the Northwest Atlantic. Maine Maritime Academy Marine Sciences Seminar Series, Castine, ME.

Cammen KM, Vincze S, Heller S, McLeod B, Wood S, Bowen WD, Hammill MO, Puryear WB, Runstadler JR, Wenzel F, Kinnison M, Frasier TF (2017) Genetic diversity from pre-bottleneck to recovery in sympatric pinnipeds in the Northwest Atlantic. 22nd Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Halifax, NS.

Cammen KM (2017) Genomic perspectives on protected species recovery: a case of two pinnipeds in the Northwest Atlantic. University of New Brunswick Department of Biological Sciences Seminar Series, St. John, NB.

Seal genomics at the Gordon Conference

By | Presentation, Research

Kristina presented her findings on the impacts of historical bottleneck, recent recovery, and geographic expansion in gray and harbor seals* at the Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Ecological and Evolutionary Genomics in Biddeford, Maine.  GRC’s are scientific meetings with an explicit focus on cutting-edge research and promoting scientific discussion.  This year’s meeting spanned the spectrum from model to non-model system, and from theoretical to empirical.  It left me feeling inspired and excited to apply new sequencing technologies and analytical pipelines to marine mammal species in an effort to better understand their ecology and evolution.

*Stay tuned for new publications that summarize this work soon!

New publication: Cost of tolerance

By | Publication, Research

In collaboration with new marine physiology professor, Nishad Jayasundara, and collaborators at Duke University, we’ve published our findings on the cost of evolving tolerance to anthropogenic pollutants in the Atlantic killifish.  These fish represent a “natural experiment” in which to study the evolution of toxin resistance; they have evolved the ability to survive exposure to high levels of PAHs, making it possible to inhabit Superfund sites in the Elizabeth River, Virginia.  In this system, our new paper explores the hypothesis that the evolution of resistance to one stressor makes organisms more susceptible to other stressors.  For more information, check out our paper here.