Current Lab members

Dr. Margaret Haines, Postdoctoral fellow, 2016 – present

I am an evolutionary biologist with current interests in hybridization and species delimitation. I started my research career as an undergrad at Bucknell University, where I focused on functional morphology in reptiles and amphibians. Under the supervision of Tristan Stayton, I studied locomotor performance in painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) and dusky salamanders (Desmognathus fuscus). After graduation, I completed internships where I monitored manatee populations at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, FL and developed enrichment items for gorillas and orangutans at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington, DC.

I moved to Australia in 2010 to pursue a PhD on the evolutionary ecology of Australian montane lizards (Pseudemoia spp.). My advisors were Devi Stuart-Fox (University of Melbourne), Jane Melville (Museum Victoria), and Nick Clemann (Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning). My work revealed complex phylogenetic relationships between species, including evidence of past and present hybridization between three syntopic, morphologically conserved species. Following the completion of my PhD, I worked on next generation sequencing projects to further investigate hybrid speciation in Pseudemoia (Australian National University) and determine the impact of wildfires on frog hybridization and genetic diversity (Museum Victoria).

My research in the Latch lab focuses on the evolutionary history of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus spp.). Specifically, I am investigating a stable hybrid swarm of black-tailed deer (O. h. columbianus) and Rocky Mountain mule deer (O. h. hemionus) in Oregon, USA using genetic markers (SNPs) under positive selection. I am also collaborating with Rachael Giglio, a PhD student in the Latch lab, to examine the relationship between immune gene (MHC) diversity and parasite diversity in mule deer across a broad latitudinal range.

Check out my website here:

Rachael Giglio (Toldness), Ph. D. student, 2014 – present (M.S. student, 2011 – 2014)

Toldness photoMy broad interests span the fields of genetics, animal behavior, and landscape genetics with a conservation emphasis. While working towards my bachelor’s degree at the University of Idaho, I spent three summers conducting research on pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) at the National Bison Range (Moiese, MT). I went on to conduct genetic analyses on pronghorn and was introduced to various techniques for applying genetic knowledge to the conservation and management of wildlife. My interest in using genetics for conservation purposes was sparked after working in a conservation genetics lab where I worked on projects with various taxa ranging from frogs to large carnivores.

My M.S. research involved using computer modeling to improve bison (Bison bison) management by evaluating current management strategies and their direct effect on genetic diversity. Bison populations, once numbering in the millions, experienced a large bottleneck in the 1800s due to overhunting. The remaining bison were then managed by a small group of private land owners. These herds are the origin of all extant bison herds including 7 different herds at 6 National Wildlife Refuges. Due to reduction of their historic population sizes as well as the fragmentation of their once contiguous habitat, current managed populations are sensitive to uneven sex ratios, the expression of deleterious alleles, founder effects, loss of genetic variation, and genetic drift and annual culling of bison is conducted to maintain low effective population sizes. Genetic variation of bison populations will be measured at different time intervals based off three main culling strategies that are currently used by managers: random removal of young, removal of bison based on the presence/ absence of rare alleles, and a pedigree-based strategy that entails the reconstruction of known pedigree data to evaluate the relatedness of bison and remove individuals that are found to have high relatedness coefficients.

Toldness - bisonBy comparing the genetic variation of a population across the different culling strategies, we are able to determine which management practice should be enforced to improve and maintain the genetic health of the population. Once a basic model is completed of each strategy, expansion on the models will be conducted by manipulating parameters to improve their overall predictive power.

My Ph.D. research is focusing on unraveling the ecology of plague by understanding pathogen, vector and host genetics. This work is in collaboration with Jorge Osorio at the University of Wisconsin Madison and Tonie Rocke at the USGS-National Wildlife Health Center, and is funded in part by a fellowship through the Morris Animal Foundation.

See my website here:

Andréa Howells, Ph.D. student, 2016 – present

My main interests involve wildlife management and genetics, with a focus on conservation of endangered and game species. I attended Louisiana State University for my bachelor’s and majored in Natural Resource Ecology and Management. During my time at LSU, I worked for the Entomology department doing a wide variety of research on termites, stink bugs, and horn flies. Here is where I learned how genetics could be use to manage populations and it got me to dig deep into the world of conservation genetics.

My research project involves using DNA and genetics to help fill in pedigree gaps in a variety of species of zoo animals. This project is in tandem with the San Diego Zoo and will eventually be used to improve AZA breeding recommendations. My project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Xueling Yi, Ph.D. student, 2017 – present

I have a broad interest in evolution and ecology of vertebrates, especially mammals. My research uses molecular methods and multiple genetic analyses to study wild populations. In this way, I am trying to answer basic evolutionary questions and help with wildlife conservation.

I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Biological Sciences from Peking University in China. My undergraduate research focused on phylogeography of mammal fauna on Hainan Island and their conspecific groups on mainland China. Using molecular phylogeny and timing, I discovered deep island-mainland divergence in two small mammals but panmictic populations in another three species. By comparing these new results with previous studies across unrelated species, I was able to summarize basic phylogeographic patterns between island and mainland and potential gene flow across the strait. I also promoted a brief evolutionary history (since the Quaternary) of Hainan mammals, with an emphasis on the influence from historical geographic events.

I graduated from Peking University in July 2017 and came to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee in August 2017 as a Ph.D. student. My current project is about conservation genetics of Wisconsin bat populations, which are declining because of the White Nose Syndrome. I am interested in studying the impact of WNS on bat microevolution, including their population structure, landscape genetics, demography, and immunology. This research is in collaboration with Forest Service with a goal of bat conservation and management.

Bennett Hardy, M.S. student, 2015 – present

BennettI am interested in research that incorporates traditional field-based methods and current molecular techniques to study the natural history, conservation, and evolution of vertebrates; specifically reptiles and amphibians. I received my B.S. degree in Wildlife Conservation and Management from Humboldt State University in north-coastal California, located in the heart of the redwood temperate rainforest. As a senior I completed an honors research project addressing a treatment for the amphibian fungal disease chytridiomycosis for at-risk populations of Cascades frogs in the southern Cascades Mountains. I was fortunate to have this work published in Diseases of Aquatic Organisms in 2015. During my undergraduate and postgraduate career I have worked as a field technician on a variety of wildlife research projects including work on game birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians.

CascadesFrogThese experiences led me to ask questions that only molecular genetic tools could answer. My M.S. research aims to quantify fine- and broad-scale patterns of spatial genetic structure in declining Cascades frog populations in California to prioritize populations for conservation using next-generation sequencing techniques and SNP datasets. This work will also delineate appropriate management units for Cascades frogs range-wide, by comparing genetic distinctiveness of California populations to the rest of their range throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Genelle Uhrig, M.S. student, 2016 – present

My research interests include conservation biology, molecular ecology, wildlife ecology, and landscape genetics. I am particularly interested in utilizing non-invasive genetic techniques to inform the conservation of both game and non-game species—including illusive, rare, and threatened or endangered species.

As an undergraduate at Michigan State University (MSU) I conducted a research study standardizing genetic techniques to differentiate between individual snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) through the extraction of DNA from tissue and fecal pellets, for use in future demographic studies. This was a collaborative project between the Applied Forest and Ecology Lab, the Molecular Ecology Lab, and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Inland Fish and Wildlife Department (IFWD). This project was my first foray into utilizing genetic techniques to answer ecological questions and played a key role in where I am today.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Fisheries and Wildlife in Dec of 2014, I began working as a lab technician in the Molecular Ecology lab at MSU where I expanded my knowledge and use of genetic techniques. In this lab, I worked with several vertebrate species including the threatened lake sturgeon (Acipencer fulvenscens) and (plentiful) Canada geese (Branta canadensis); learned lab techniques including microsatellite genotyping, sanger sequencing, and environmental DNA (eDNA) collection and filtration; and conducted analyses with several computer-based population genetics programs. While continuing to work in the Molecular Ecology lab, I gained invaluable field experience working for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources banding ducks and working at a deer check station, both at a time when the first cases of Avian Influenza and Chronic Wasting Disease appeared in wild goose and deer populations, respectively.

My Masters research here in the Latch Lab at UWM builds upon my undergraduate research project as I’m again partnering with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians IFWD and the Applied Forest and Ecology Lab at MSU to understand snowshoe hare demographics and landscape genetics in the Hiawatha National Forest located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Michigan’s snowshoe hare population, at the southern edge of the species’ range, faces climate change related threats to their survival which are compounded with harvesting pressures. There is evidence that snowshoe hare populations have been declining in Michigan, but without baseline information on population demographics, such as abundance and density, it is difficult to design management activities that ensure long-term population persistence. We are conducting a Capture-Mark-Recapture (CMR) study using noninvasive genetic tagging of snowshoe hare to better understand hare abundance and density, spatial ecology, and landscape genetics to inform the conservation and management of this declining and ecologically important species.