Seminar: Dr. Carolina Bonin Lewallen, Hampton University
Title: “Unraveling the remarkable recovery of a severely exploited marine mammal”
Speaker: Dr. Carolina Bonin Lewallen, Marine and Environmental Science Department, Hampton University
Dr. Carolina Bonin earned her doctoral degree in Marine Biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego. During her PhD she employed neutral molecular markers in population genetics and genetic pedigree reconstruction studies of Antarctic fur seals in the wild. Dr. Bonin’s interest in acquiring genomic analysis skills led her to transition into a post-doctoral position in biomedical sciences at the Mayo Clinic Rochester MN. While there, she worked on mining patient epigenomic data, in particular DNA methylation, to search for genes associated with osteoarthritis. At Hampton University, Dr. Bonin is developing a new research agenda on the identification of molecular bio-indicators, particularly microRNAs, for marine organism health.
Abstract: The field of conservation genetics has traditionally focused on the study of the mechanisms that generate and maintain genetic diversity. Severely depleted populations are often the focus of scientific studies. Thus, conservation efforts typically only happen after an irreversible loss of diversity has already occurred over many generations, which is sometimes immeasurable. However, what can we learn from organisms and/or populations that have recovered from demographic decline without significant loss of genetic diversity? In the face of climate change, can we use disturbance-resistant populations to model and predict adaptive responses in other populations and species? Antarctic fur seals recently recovered from local extirpation due to intensive hunting in the early 19th century, yet they maintain mysteriously high levels of genetic diversity. My research revealed, contrary to historical records, that recovering populations likely received immigrants from multiple sources during the re-colonization process, including remote refugia where relict populations survived the sealing era. In addition, my work highlighted that although fur seals are highly polygynous (dominant males father most offspring) and present high levels of site fidelity (returning to same breeding site year after year), levels of remating between males and females is very low. Importantly, this indicated that behavioral complexities can counter-act mate fidelity rates among individuals. This work highlights the importance of isolated populations, which can harbor unexpectedly high levels of genetic diversity.