A History of the North American Buffalo in Three Acts
Beth Shapiro, Ph.D.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor
REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, Santa Cruz
Beth Alison Shapiro is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Shapiro's work has centered on the analysis of ancient DNA. She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2009 and a Royal Society University Research Fellowship in 2006.
My research aims to better understand how populations and species change through time, in particular in in response to environmental and other changes to their habitat. To address this, my group uses the latest experimental and computational approaches to analyze genetic information isolated from fossil and archived remains. I am particularly interested in learning what drives two particularly important evolutionary processes: speciation and extinction.
Biography, Education and Training
BS, Ecology, University of Georgia (1999)
MS, Ecology, University of Georgia (1999)
DPhil, Zoology, Oxford University (2003)
Buffalo (Bison bison), also known as bison, are the US National Mammal and an icon of American resilience. However, ancient DNA has shown that they are relative newcomers to the Americas compared to species like horses and mammoths, having dispersed into Alaska from Asia within the last 200,000 years. To explore the evolutionary history of our national mammal, I will describe analyses of whole genome data from hundreds of bison sampled from across their range. I reconstruct the entire evolutionary history of the genus, from its Middle Pleistocene diversification in Eurasia through its twice near-extinction in North America, and their diversification into the two subspecies that are known today: wood and plains bison. Finally, I will explore 20th century efforts to hybridize bison with cattle to create new and specialized breeds and how this admixture has – or has not – influenced the species’ capacity to adapt to life with people.
1. To understand the evolutionary origins of North American bison as learned from ancient DNA
2. To appreciate the role of climate changes and human hunting in the extinction dynamics of the North American megafauna
3. To understand how recent efforts to conserve bison and hybridize them with cattle have influenced their genomic diversity and adaptive potential
This page was last updated on Friday, January 5, 2024