Jessica A. Rick

PhD Student, CE Wagner Lab, University of Wyoming


My Research


In a changing environment, a population’s ability to evolve and adapt is vital to survival. I am primarily interested in the use of genetic tools to solve problems related to genetic structure, gene flow, and adaptation in wildlife ecology and conservation biology.


Phylogenetics and population history of Lates species in Lake Tanganyika

Lates stappersii

Lates stappersii

Fishing boat near Kigoma, Tanzania

Fishing boat near Kigoma, Tanzania

Lates mariae

Lates mariae

In the fall of 2016, I began my PhD research focusing on the genomics of evolution and speciation in fish radiations as a member of the Wagner Lab at the University of Wyoming. My research will involve investigating the phylogenetics of endemic Lates species in Lake Tanganyika, including divergence times, phylogenetic relationships, and population histories, as a method of examining current declines in these fisheries-important fishes. In addition to work on Lates species, I will be involved in projects researching Lake Tanganyika dagaa (sardines) and local Wyoming fish as well. I look forward to getting my hands on all kinds of different genomics-based projects related to adaptation and evolution in lake ecosystems in Africa and Wyoming!


Image (c) Jethro Taylor, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC)

Image (c) Jethro Taylor, licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC)

MINNESOTA WOLF POPULATION GENETIC ASSESSMENT

In this portion of my research, I used microsatellite genotyping to infer the genetic diversity and population genetic structure of the Minnesota wolf population in two sampling years spanning an increase in anthropogenic mortality corresponding to the delisting of wolves under the Endangered Species Act and the onset of legal wolf harvest in Minnesota. I focused on compensation (for increased mortality) in the wolf system via dispersal and immigration, to provide a baseline for answering questions related to the genetic consequences of disturbances-- specifically, anthropogenic mortality-- in this wolf system.

Related publication: Rick, JA, RA Moen, JD Erb, JL Strasburg (2016, In review). Temporal changes in population genetics and structure of a newly harvested wolf (Canis lupus) population in Minnesota.

Related presentations: MN/WI Chapter of The Wildlife Society Annual Meeting (February 2015), Midwest PopGen Conference (July 2015), Annual Conference of The Wildlife Society (October 2015), UMD Biology Department Seminar Series (November 2015)


WOLF-COYOTE HYBRIDIZATION IN MINNESOTA

The second part of my research focuses more narrowly on hybridization, a known consequence of reductions in wolf numbers in some areas of the United States and Canada. In this study, I sequenced two uni-parentally inherited genetic markers (one mtDNA, and one on the Y-chromosome) in a subset of the harvested wolves from 2012 and 2013 to assess the evidence for historical or contemporary wolf-coyote hybridization in Minnesota and to analyze how the phylogeography based on these markers compares to the population structure observed using microsatellite loci.

Related publication: Rick, JA, SM Grewenow, RA Moen, JL Strasburg. In prep. Phylogenetics and hybridization of wolves (Canis lupus) in Minnesota using mitochondrial and Y chromosome haplotyping.


Capture-Recapture population assessment in Leech Lake (MN)

As a side project during my master's, I was involved in conducting the lab work for a pilot study using noninvasive capture-recapture to estimate the population size and density of wolves living on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota. This project involved collaborating with tribal biologists and optimizing laboratory processes for working with low-quality and low-quantity DNA sources (ie. wolf scat), processing the first two years of samples for the project.