Research Interests

  • Population-level genetic variation in threatened species and species of management concern
  • Historical genetic variation (using museum DNA)
  • Relationships between genetic variation and fitness in individuals
  • Genetic aspects of behavioral ecology (inbreeding avoidance, extra-pair paternity)

Current Research

Conservation genetics of captive tigers in the US

Alessandra Bresnan, PhD student (August 2018 – present)

Funding: Global Tiger Consortium
Collaborators: TBD

Alessandra is interested in employing conservation genetics to examine the extent of hybridization and adaptation to captivity in the US captive tiger population. For her Masters, she investigated the effects of fragmentation on plantain squirrel populations of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary with population genetics. Previous experience includes applying genetics to verify scat origin for a dietary analysis of leopards (Panthera pardus) in South Africa.

Response of marsh rice rats to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Anna Perez-Umphrey, PhD student (January 2016 – present)

Funding: Gulf of Mexico Research Institute RFP IV
Collaborators: Phil Stouffer (co-PI; LSU AgCenter), GoMRI CWC Consortium, Stefan Woltmann (Austin Peay University), Colleen Jonsson (University of Tennessee).

Marsh rice rats, (Oryzomys palustris), are common, top-level consumers in coastal marshes, consequently they are excellent candidates to explore the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on terrestrial vertebrates. Anna will examine the relationship between genetic variation, susceptibility to hanta virus, and exposure to oil. She will also compare gene expression and estimates of population size between oiled and unoiled sites.

Population genomics of range expansion in Bachman's Sparrow

Amie Settlecowski, Ph.D. student (August 2015 - present)

Funding: LSU and LSU Agcenter
Collaborators: Jeremy Brown (Louisiana State University), Jim Cox and James Tucker (Tall Timbers Research Station), Brant Faricloth (Louisiana State University),

SettlecowskiBachman’s Sparrow (Peucaea aestivalis) is a species-at-risk that has declined from fire suppression, timber harvesting, and fragmentation of the open longleaf pine savannahs that it occupies. Effectively managing Bachman’s Sparrows requires genetic information on their population-level diversity and structure. Amie is using a combination of historic and modern DNA together with NGS methods to describe how Bachman’s Sparrow genetic variation has changed in the past century. This approach also allows Amie to explore how a historic range expansion ands retraction has influenced genetic variation in Bachman’s Sparrow.

Genetic Variation and Effective Population Size in Smalltooth Sawfish

Kelcee Smith, Ph.D. student (August 2014 - present)

Funding: LSU Agcenter, Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, Sigma Xi
Collaborators: Bill Kelso & Mike Kaller (LSU AgCenter), Dana Bethea & John Carlson (NOAA), Kevin Feldheim (Field Museum), Nicole Phillips (University of Southern Mississippi), Tonya Wiley (Havenworth Coastal Conservation)

SmithSmalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) are critically endangered yet information on population size is lacking despite its importance to population viability analyses and management strategies. Kelcee will examine genetic variation in historic and contemporary samples to estimate effective population size and to examine how genetic variation and structure may have changed over time. Smalltooth sawfish are unusual among fish in that historic samples are available from dried rostra, which have been kept as trophies: most fish are preserved in formalin, a chemical that crosslinks DNA and often makes it unusable for genetic analyses. Kelcee's work will contribute important information for conservation and may serve as a benchmark for other elasmobranchs for which historic DNA samples are unavailable.

Response of Seaside Sparrows to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Allison Snider, M.Sc. student (January 2016 - present)

Funding: Gulf of Mexico Research Institute RFP IV
Collaborators: Phil Stouffer (co-PI; LSU AgCenter), GoMRI CWC Consortium, Stefan Woltmann (Austin Peay University)

Seaside sparrows (Ammospiza maritima) are the most common passserine found in Louisiana coastal marshes and are known to have been exposed to oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Feasting on a variety of insects and other invertebrates, the sparrows may have been affected by the oil spill through a loss or change in prey. Allison will examine sparrow diet on oiled and unoiled sites by metabarcoding (sequencing) insect remains in fecal, gut, and ligature samples in adult and young sparrows.

Genetic Structure of New Zealand Fernbirds

Sabrina Taylor

Funding: LSU Agcenter
Collaborators: Bruce Robertson (University of Otago), Colin O'Donnell (NZ Department of Conservation)

Fernbirds (Bowdleria punctata) are a species endemic to New Zealand frequently found in wetland areas. There are currently five described subspecies, several island populations, and considerable habitat loss and fragmentation. As such, there is considerable potential for genetic structure as a consequence of long-term reproductive isolation as well as more recent habitat fragmentation. I am collecting blood samples from the five subspecies as well as populations in the Te Anau Basin to examine whether subspecific designations have a genetic basis and whether fine-scale population differentiation exists as a consequence of habitat loss and isolation.

Immune gene variation in reticulated flatwoods salamanders

Steven Tyler Williams, M.Sc. student (January 2018 - present)

Funding: Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species, LSU
Collaborators: Jean Elbers (University of Vienna), Carola Haas (Virginia Tech), Jamie Roberts (Georgia Southern University)

Tyler will analyze immune gene variation and prevalence of Ranavirus in reticulated flatwoods salamanders (Ambystoma bishopi), a federally endangered species. Immune gene variation has a proven relationship to disease susceptibility and/or resistance and therefore is an important predictor of a species’ long-term persistence. By examining immune gene variation, it is possible to identify highly variable populations and populations with unique variation in order to manage extant populations and select a diverse assemblage of individuals for planned reintroductions in extirpated areas. High immune gene variation in newly established RFS populations is particularly important to long-term viability for resistance to disease such as Ranavirus.

Former lab members


Dr. Christine Bergeon Burns
Former Postdoc, Seaside Sparrows and Marsh Rice Rats
Director, CISAB Lab
Indiana University
Jordan Hall 348
1001 E Third St, Bloomington IN 47405
812- 856-1139
cbergeon at



Dr. Andrea Bonisoli Alquati
Former Postdoc, Seaside Sparrow and Marsh Rice Rats
Assistant Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
Pomona, CA 91768
aalquati at




Dr. Kristin Brzeski
Former PhD student, Red Wolf Immunogenetics
 Assistant Professor
School of Forest Resources & Environmental Science
Michigan Technological University|100 Noblet Building|1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, MI 49931
kbrzeski at





Blain Cerame
Former MS student, Bachman's Sparrow Population Structure
SWCA Environmental Consultants




Dr. Jean Elbers
Former PhD student, Gopher Tortoise Immunogenetics
 Postdoctoral Researcher
Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology
University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
Savoyenstrasse 1
1160 Vienna, Austria
jeanpierreelbers at



Robert Ford
Former MS student, Mottled Duck Population Structure & Hybridization with Mallards
Michigan Department of Natural Resources






Dr. Stefan Woltmann
Former Postdoc, Seaside Sparrows and Marsh Rice Rats
Assistant Professor
Dept. of Biology
Austin Peay State University
Clarksville, TN 37044
woltmanns at