In my PhD I study the complicated conservation issue of 'genetic pollution', the hybridization between native and invasive species. My work explores the risks posed by genetic pollution in amphibians and reptiles and strives to develop conservation strategies to safeguard these vulnerable species.
From an evolutionary perspective, competition among species promotes the emergence of novel traits and the development of dynamic ecosystems. Hybridization plays an important role in evolution and is a significant driver in recombing biodiversity. However, intensive globalization has enabled species to reach previously inaccessible regions, disrupting the natural competitive dynamics because these new competitors have evolved under unequal environmental circumstances. Invasive species pose a grave danger to the survival of native populations across the globe. Among the well-documented pressures contributing to the extinction of indigenous species are competition, predation, and the transmission of diseases by invasive species. However, at the molecular level, a more insidious threat exists, known as "genetic pollution". When invasive species interbreed with their native counterparts, they may occasionally produce viable offspring. These hybrids can subsequently mate with their parent species, thus exchanging genetic material between the two groups – a process referred to as introgression. Molecular methods have unveiled that anthropogenic introgression is a widespread phenomenon that has the potential to undermine the genetic integrity of native species. The replacement of native genes with invasive ones leads to a reduction of biodiversity and locally adapted genes. My work employs molecular techniques, such as Target Sequence Capture, KASP Genotyping, and Microsatellite analysis, to investigate the extent of genetic pollution in various amphibian and reptile species. Additionally, I am interested in advancing fieldwork methodologies and conservation strategies to protect these vulnerable species.
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