Module 5: Genetics
An on-line resource for practitioners
About this course
Snow leopards are difficult to observe and therefore collecting adequate data to address conservation, research, and monitoring questions can be challenging. This species persists at low densities, requires large tracts of habitat, and is capable of long distance dispersal. Most snow leopard populations exist in naturally fragmented landscapes and face increased impact and fragmentation from anthropogenic activities, all of which may disrupt various demographic processes important for population persistence. While camera traps have greatly aided in addressing some of the challenges of collecting data on these elusive animals, molecular techniques can provide the same, and in some cases superior, information compared to that of photo images. However, the investment in developing and using molecular techniques is largely underutilized across the snow leopard conservation community.
The Genetics Training Module is meant to provide participants with a basic understanding of wildlife genetics and its applications to designing effective conservation programs for snow leopards. This course largely serves as an introductory primer to more complex techniques, analyses, and applications of noninvasive genetics, but covers a wide range of topics relevant to the leading approaches. We start by outlining the power and utility of genetics in wildlife conservation. We provide examples from the real-world applications of these methods for improving species conservation and management. Then we cover the essentials for noninvasive sample collection, processing in the lab, and molecular approaches for species, sex, and individual ID. At the end we introduce the most recent advances in utilizing Next Generation Sequencing. Finally, we wrap up the course with an open round-table discussion on how to expand on these methods in range countries, and talk about the primary goals, opportunities, and challenges.
This course is Module 5 of the Snow Leopard Network’s training initiative. This Module is offered thanks to the support of Panthera, Duquesne University and the University of Delaware. The course was conducted live through on-line sessions with Snow Leopard Network participants in November 2020. The training took place over 4 sessions (each 2 hour). The recordings from this live training are now available below. Do follow the outlined structure of the course as each session builds on each other. In total the course consists of 8 hours of video presentation and discussion. If you have any questions about the course or accessing the reading material please contact us.
Meet the Trainers
Dr. Byron Weckworth is the director of Panthera’s Snow Leopard and Conservation Genetic programs. His research experience has involved work across a variety of ecosystems and species, including wolves, white-tailed deer, black bears, caribou, moose, and, of course, snow leopards. Byron’s work aims to address a wide spectrum of ecological and evolutionary questions pertinent to successful conservation.
Dr. Jan E. Janecka is an Associate Professor in Biological Sciences at Duquesne University. He published a study evaluating the utility of noninvasive genetics for monitoring snow leopards in 2007. Since then, he has worked with partners in Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, India, Mongolia, China, Kyrgyzstan, and Bhutan applying genetics to snow leopards to understand their distribution, abundance, diet, phylogeography, landscape connectivity, evolution, and adaptations to high altitude.
Imogene Cancellare is a PhD Candidate at the University of Delaware and is a partner of the Conservation Genetics Program at Panthera. Her research focuses on understanding the ecological and evolutionary patterns that impact snow leopard population connectivity range-wide. Her work aims to address the relationships between gene flow and landscapes at varying spatial scales to better inform conservation efforts, and to increase capacity for wildlife genetics research across Central Asia.
Charlotte Hacker is a PhD candidate at Duquesne University and research associate with the Snow Leopard Conservancy. Her research focuses on the use of molecular techniques to better understand snow leopard phylogeography, gene flow, and diet. Her work aims to contribute to current knowledge of the species’ population status at local and range-wide scales, as well as current understanding of species ecology and coexistence with humans.
I found the course very helpful. It provided me with a basic understanding of genetic tools and protocols that can enhance the success rate of DNA analysis from scats. The course also covered a wide range of interesting interactive talks on noninvasive genetics applications in designing effective conservation programs.
In the last three years, I have taken courses on other aspects of the ecology but didn’t have a chance to take a genetics course. This module was important as it not only filled that gap but also exposed me to the concepts and applications of genetic methods for snow leopard conservation. It was a great course and I highly recommend it, particularly for researchers studying cryptic species.
Session 1: Introduction to Genetics
As preparation for this session please refer to the following links:
- Genetics glossary: http://www.uwyo.edu/dbmcd/popecol/maylects/popgengloss.html
- DNA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwibgNGe4aY
- Lots of content on these YouTube channels where you can peruse for content specific to above:
Part 1: Conservation Genetics: Opportunities and needs for snow leopards
Part 2: Molecular markers for conservation research
Part 3: Difficulties of non-invasive genetics
Session 2: Sampling design & Lab etiquettes
As preparation for this session please refer to the following publications:
- Leempoel et al. 2020. A comparison of eDNA to camera trapping for assessment of terrestrial mammal diversity.The Royal Society. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.2019.2353
- Dutta et al. 2016. Connecting the dots: mapping habitat connectivity for tigers in central India. Regional Environmental Change. Vol 16, pp. 53-67. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-015-0877-z
- Janjua et al. 2018. Improving our conservation genetic toolkit: ddRAD-seq for SNPs in snow leopards. Conservation Genetics Resources. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12686-019-01082-2
- Weckworth, B. V., M. Hebblewhite, S. Mariani, and M. Musiani. 2018. Lines on a map: conservation units, meta-population dynamics, and recovery of woodland caribou in Canada. Ecosphere 9(7):e02323. 10.1002/ecs2.2323
- Li et al. 2016. Climate refugia of snow leopards in High Asia. Biological Conservation. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320716304736?via%3Dihub
- Mondol S, Karanth KU, Ramakrishnan U (2009) Why the Indian Subcontinent Holds the Key to Global Tiger Recovery. PLoS Genet 5(8): e1000585. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000585 https://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1000585
- Li et al. 2020. Defining priorities for global snow leopard conservation landscapes. Biological Conservation. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320719311553?via%3Dihub
Part 1: Survey Schemes and why they matter
Part 2: Scat Sample Handling Etiquette from the Field to the Lab
Part 3: Lab Etiquette
Session 3: Species/Individual ID, abundance, diet and ecological landscape modeling concepts
As preparation for this session please refer to the following publications:
- Janečka et al. 2011. Comparison of noninvasive genetic and camera-trapping techniques for surveying snow leopards. Journal of Mammaology. 92(4) pp. 771-783. https://academic.oup.com/jmammal/article/92/4/771/888116
- Janečka et al. 2017. Range-Wide Snow Leopard Phylogeography Supports Three Subspecies. Journal of Heredity. https://academic.oup.com/jhered/article/108/6/597/3796316
- Rodgers and Janečka. 2013. Applications and techniques for non-invasive faecal genetics research in felid conservation. European Journal of Wildlife Research. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10344-012-0675-6
- Janečka and Hacker. 2020. Noninvasive Genetics and Genomics Shed Light on the Status, Phylogeography, and Evolution of the Elusive Snow Leopard. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-030-33334-8_5