From the perspective of an individual organism, genetic diversity is important for survival and reproduction. From a population perspective, genetic diversity is important for adaptation and viability. Human impacts are increasingly fragmenting and reducing populations, which can reduce gene flow and cause inbreeding. I use molecular tools to quantify those impacts and inform conservation biologists of any potential genetic problems. I currently have several evolutionary ecology studies occurring, including American red wolves, black bears, and mountain lion projects.
My research showed that the puma population in the Santa Ana Mountains had the lowest genetic diversity ever reported for pumas besides the Florida Panther, which nearly went extinct from genetic causes. Although pumas are capable of moving hundreds of miles, Interstate-15 is preventing the inbred Santa Ana Mountain population from breeding with the more genetically diverse population across the interstate. Although 3 males have crossed I-15 over the last 20 years, M86 was the only male detected that successfully produced offspring. By producing a total of 11 offspring, M86 rapidly disseminated unique genes into the inbred population, increasing genetic diversity.