Research

Conservation genomics of endangered California amphibians

The primary project focuses on the federally and state listed California tiger salamander, Ambystoma californiense. The species has declined across its limited range in central California, and our work has provided the scientific backing both for listing the species, and for delimiting species boundaries, understanding patterns of gene flow, and quantifying the ways that salamanders live in the harsh ecological landscape of the Great Central Valley. Much of our recent work has focused on an amazing case of hybridization between non-native, introduced Barred tiger salamanders and native California tiger salamanders. It’s a story that has as much to say about mechanisms of speciation as it does about conservation biology, and we continue to explore the system from a variety of genetic, genomic, and ecological perspectives. Other projects in the lab have developed the red-legged frogs Rana aurora/draytonii as another system where genetic, and ultimately genomic data should provide tremendous insights into conservation and management of the endangered California red-legged frog.

Our work on the California Tiger Salamander received a major boost from the National Science Foundation with a $684,000 award to the Shaffer lab. The project uses cutting-edge genomic tools to characterize historical and contemporary salamander populations, and to track the spread of thousands of non-native genes as they invaded the native range of the California tiger salamander over the last quarter century.