Nature Lab

By Bonnie Chasteen | April 1, 2020
From Missouri Conservationist: April 2020

Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.

Resource Science

Conservation Genetics

In the late 1990s, former MDC fisheries researcher Jeff Koppleman discovered that walleye from the Black and Current rivers had genetics different from hatchery walleye with origins in the Great Lakes region.

“Jeff caught a glimpse of something special,” said Leah Berkman, MDC geneticist.

“Black River walleye are different from most other walleye. This means they contribute to the overall diversity of the species.”

When MDC managers need to ensure that a population of fish or wildlife is healthy and diverse enough to withstand the inevitable threats of disease and environmental change, they seek Berkman’s help.

As a resource scientist, she develops a sampling plan and advises on appropriate collection. Then she and her colleagues at the Conservation Genetics Lab in Columbia conduct an amplification-based test. In simple terms, Berkman’s team takes a very small sample of DNA and amplifies it to a large enough sample to study in detail.

Once lab work is complete, analysis begins. “An amplified sample will reveal an animal’s DNA sequence,” Berkman said. “We can infer many things from this information including its parents and sometimes where it’s from. When we look across individuals, we can judge a population’s genetic diversity and evolutionary health, and thus its ability to withstand environmental changes.”

Berkman is currently helping gauge and ensure the diversity of the state’s growing black bear and elk populations ahead of proposed hunting seasons. “The elk analysis is interesting. We’re trying to see if one bull is siring most of the calves, and whether opening up opportunities for other bulls to breed could strengthen the herd’s genetics,” she said.

Genetic Analysis at a Glance

The Process
  • Develop a sampling plan and work with field staff to collect appropriately
  • Do the lab work
  • Analyze the data
  • Advise the work team

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Larry Archer

Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler