All posts by krisbudd

Getting Ready for ICCB 2017

This weekend we’re shipping out to Cartagena, Colombia for the International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) 2017. This is sure to be a fantastic conference with some of the best in the field scheduled to make an appearance.

We’ll be presenting there too! You can catch us at both the symposium and the poster presentations below.

Monday, July 24th – 4:00pm
Poster Session 1:1, Our Environment
Genetic Diversity of the Asian Elephant, Elephas Maximus, across its Distribution – Kris Budd & Lori S. Eggert

Can’t make it to ICCB 2017?
Digital Poster Available Here!

Wednesday, July 26th – 10:00am
Providing Solutions to Current Conservation Challenges with Novel Genetic Approaches Symposium:
 From Dung to Demography Using noninvasive methods in the conservation of elephant populations — Lori S. Eggert, Marissa Ahlering, & Kris Budd

See you there!

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Elephant Family Trees

 

So if you didn’t already know, there are currently three different species of elephant alive today: the African Savanna, the African Forest, and {the Best} the Asian elephant. Phylogeny, or just a fancy way to say family trees, have been debated constantly in the elephant world. To settle these debates (or often add additional fuel to the fire), we look to fossils to explain the evolution of the species.

The prime example that everyone seems to know of is the Woolly Mammoths. Well, have you ever sat down and thought, who the heck are they related to, African elephants or Asian elephants? Or even, are the three species alive today more closely related to each other than that crazy hairy beast? This debate was hashed out by scientists for YEARS, in fact every now and again you’ll find a scientist claiming to have new evidence to support one or the other. I gotta say, I’m siding with (as do most nowadays)  Rohland et al (2007), who genetically determined that Mammoths (Mammuthus primigenuis below) are actually most closely related to the Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). [Other names in the figure include Loxodonta africana, the African elephant and Mammut americanum, the Mastodon]. Although I gotta say, check out that forehead on the Mammoths and Asian, quite the family trait.

If your saying right now “But Kris, I’m looking at that tree and seeing only one African elephant, didn’t you say there are two?!”. Why yes good sir, I did. In fact, the early 2000’s fueled enormous debates about Savanna and Forest elephants. (In fact, my adviser Lori Eggert, was among the first to show this difference while working with the Forest elephants of Gabon!). However this debate continues on today.

It all comes down to what the heck you decide to call a species. Species are a man-made concept, and nature has never liked falling into nice clean boxes. So what is a Species? Well that entirely depends on who you ask. There are several different definitions of what you can define as a species and what works for one organism sure doesn’t work for another.

Think about this:

Why aren’t the breeds of dogs classified as different species? Well Kris, they are all still dogs! They can still breed and everything…. Oh really? How about a chihuahua and a great dane? Should they be different species because they can’t have little chihua-danes? No, of course not! How about wolves and dogs? They can breed, and yet are two species right? Okay, now apply that thinking to elephants. Savanna and Forest elephants can actually breed with one another, (heck, Asian and African elephants have actually produced a hybrid in a zoo at one point) but they look and act differently. Now do you call it a separate species? OF COURSE YOU DO.  Welcome to the confusing mess that is species. 

Anywho, this Savanna vs. Forest debate has raged for years and like usual we try to turn to fossils to help solve it. Enter, the Straight Tusked Elephant, (Palaeoloxodon). This behemoth of a bruit lived (and died) about 120 to 244 thousand years ago. Its long been assumed that it is a long lost relative to the modern day Asian elephant (more so than even the Mammoths). Like all good science novels, recent developments in genetics had to come and prove everything you thought you knew straight up wrong! In a new paper, Meyer et al (2017) found that this fossilized ancestor is actually most closely related to the African Forest Elephant (Not even the Savanna). This of course provided even more support to say that the Forest elephant is a separate species, with a unique ancestral tree than that of the Savanna elephant.

Untitled

So although our Straight tusked elephant has that wicked forehead of the Asian and the Mammoth, it came from the little forest elephant, well at least the straight tusks are a family trait I guess. Goes to show you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

 

Meyer et al. eLife 2017;6:e25413. DOI: 10.7554/eLife.25413

All is Quiet on the Ele-front

Its been pretty quiet around here for quite some time now but I can update you on it none the less.

Its grant writing season! Seriously though. I feel like every single grant is either due in March or November. The lucky part of this though is that I belong to the less than 1% of graduate students who actually enjoys writing! I’m pretty sure the other grad students hate me for it.

On the research side of life. Our samples out of Nam Kading were well…. crap. Both literally and figuratively. They were heavily degraded, making DNA work nearly impossible. I’ve been lucky enough to be pulling some heavily degraded MtDNA (Mitochondrial) out of it but even that I’m only have about 60% success getting to amplify.

So although I’m still running around like a chicken with its head cut off and I feel like there is never enough hours in the day, somehow I’m not getting anywhere.

In the infamous words of a friend of mine Jacob Washburn,

“Getting a PhD is a time paradox. Somehow there are never enough hours in the day and yet simultaneously the 5 years it takes are forever away”

St. Louis Zoo

Went to check out the Asian Elephants at the St. Louis Zoo this week. The little ones put on quite a show for us, wrestling in the water! Check out this adorableness!

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Finally… ELEPHANT

Look at those bands. Those are some pretty bands. (The blank is the negative control, its supposed to look like that) Yay!

CB6C01A77D8043C6959DF285F1F182B0 [53827]

Upon sequencing the DNA is…… ASIAN ELEPHANT! WOO! YAY.

The fragment is a ~300 base pair chunk of mitochondrial DNA. Now to see if we can get any nuclear.

The joys of working with Dung…