Evolutionary and Conservation Genomics

Genomic Signatures of Population Bottlenecks

We focus our research on how the interplay of demography and selection affects the genetic makeup of wild species, with particular interest in gene flow and deleterious mutations.

Our aim is to address both fundamental questions in evolutionary biology as well as relevant questions that inform conservation management strategies of species facing extinction risks.

Alpine ibex (Capra ibex) are an excellent model to investigate the population genomic consequences of profound bottlenecks. As a consequence of centuries-long strong hunting pressure, Alpine ibex nearly went extinct at the beginning of the 19th century, but recovered thanks to a very successful reintroduction program.
We combine ancient, historic and modern samples spanning a period of more than 8000 years to investigate the consequences of near extinction on the genomic makeup of a species. For this, we take advantage of various genomic tools, including whole-genome sequencing.

The Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) is the sole survivor of at least nine giant tortoise species that once occupied most islands in the Western Indian Ocean. Aldabra giants are currently at fairly healthy numbers, but the future of the species is uncertain because of the very restricted distribution range and a high vulnerability to projected climate change (i.e. sea level rise). We combine whole-genome and amplicon sequencing to lay the foundation for a significantly improved conservation management and enable scientifically relevant insights into the population structure of these iconic tortoises.

Head of group: Dr. Christine Grossen

Research themes

  • Evolution of deleterious mutation load
  • Genome-wide patterns of gene flow among species
  • Hybridization as a source of evolutionary novelty and a threat to endangered species
  • Ancient population genomics
  • Immunogenetic monitoring (collaboration with Dr. Alice Brambilla)
  • Genomic analysis of rewilding (Aldabra giant tortoise)