Population genomics of wild boar

Joost de Jong studies how genetic variation in Wild boar is affected by hybridization, habitat fragmentation and hunting, using molecular analysis of historical and recent samples from populations throughout Europe.

While the immense rise in the number of genetic markers substantially increases the power to detect human impacts on genetic diversity, the particular analyses of functional regions of the genome even allows for inference of the consequences of these impacts for individual fitness and population viability.

Project description

In this research project I will use the new possibilities of genomics to investigate in which way hybridization, habitat fragmentation and hunting have been altering functional genetic variation of wildlife populations. Moreover, by inferring fitness effects of genetic variants, I will study the hypotheses that (i) admixed wildlife populations contain high levels of non-adaptive genetic variation, and that (ii) fragmented and bottlenecked wildlife populations suffer from inbreeding depression and loss of adaptive potential. With regard to the latter hypothesis, I will investigate to what extent genetic drift overrides selection and as such causes an enhanced frequency and expression of deleterious alleles and an increased loss of beneficial alleles.

I will address these questions and hypotheses by contrasting recent and historic samples of animals from small and large populations of various geographic origin throughout Europe. In addition, I will analyse the genetic differentiation of subpopulations that were previously isolated due to highways, but are recently connected by means of a wildlife corridor.

The study species of this research project is wild boar (Sus scrofa). Because its domestic relative is of vital importance in the agricultural sector and furthermore serves as a model species for disease research, genetic variation of the wild boar can be studied using the latest molecular technology and knowledge. This will enable me to make a detailed examination of the magnitude and consequences of anthropogenic caused alterations of the genetic variation of wildlife populations. Ultimately, I hope the insights obtained in this research project will benefit the conservation of wildlife populations that experience ever increasing anthropogenic pressure.

MSc thesis

From spring 2014 onwards, MSc students have the possibility to participate in this project. The thesis will entirely consist of data analyses and hence does not involve fieldwork. On the other hand, students will have the challenging opportunity to analyse a high quality genomic dataset of a large wildlife species (>60,000 genetic markers of hundreds of animals throughout Europe) so as to unravel demographic history and possibly detect signatures of evolution.

Students should preferably have followed courses on genomics and/or population genetics. In addition, students should be willing to learn some programming skills.