UBC professor Dr. Mike Russello uses genetics to understand recent history in the American Badger

A drill was used to extract pulp for DNA analysis from this American Badger claw

Fig. 1. A drill was used to extract pulp for DNA analysis from this American Badger claw

Genetic variation can tell biologists a lot about the history of a species including how geographic populations are related to one another. When animals travel across the landscape and breed, populations that are separated by large distances can still be genetically similar because of gene flow. However, populations can become isolated for many reasons. A geographic barrier, like a mountain, is a permanent feature of the land that may be difficult for an animal to travel across. A change in land use, say from continuous forest to a rural human community, may also introduce a barrier that is difficult for an animal like a badger to cross.

Dr. Russello is investigating how American Badgers, including those in Montana, are connected to an endangered American Badger subspecies found in the Pacific Northwest.  Dr. Russello is using DNA from modern and historical specimens to ask if the endangered badgers in the Pacific Northwest have been isolated from the rest of the continental population for a long time or if they were isolated after major human development in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. To answer this question, Dr. Russello sampled the claw pulp of 13 badger specimens (see picture) that were collected in Montana before 1970. He will extract and sequence DNA from the claw pulp to understand how American Badgers from across North America are related to one another and the effect that human development has had on this species.