Asian Turtle Systematics

Turtles in Asia are being pushed to extinction due to the pet, food, and medicine trade. Besides passing appropriate legislation, it is important to gather baseline data by doing market surveys, fieldwork, and labwork. With the advent of DNA sequencing, we are able to investigate intraspecific diversity, detect more complex phylogeographic patterns, and uncover cryptic species. I am currently working on projects on the genera Mauremys and Sacalia. This work is being done in collaboration with Dr. Shi Haitao [Hainan Normal University], Dr. James F. Parham [California Academy of Sciences], and Dr. Bryan L. Stuart [North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences], Tim McCormack [Asian Turtle Program] “Turtle Confusion”: Society of Conservation Biology, 2007

Turtle Conservation

Genetics is a powerful tool for conservation. In addition to sorting out species and populations, genetics can be used to detect hybridization. Hybridization is quite common within turtles. The family Geoemydidae is of special concern because this group’s diversity is centered in Asia, where turtles are highly endangered due to the use of turtles for food. I have been working in collaboration with Dr. Chen Tien-Hsi [Ching Kuo Institute of Management and Health] looking at potential hybrids from the wild.

Pelomedusa subrufa systematics

Pelomedusa is widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Madagascar and the Arabian Peninsula. There are currently three named subspecies based on morphological characters. Our goals are to 1) determine whether the populations in Madagascar and the Arabian Peninsula are natural or human mediated, and 2) determine the genetic structure of Pelomedusa. This work is being done in collaboration with Tomas Diagne [Nature Tropicale Senegal], Dr. Theodore Papenfuss and Robyn Wong [UC Berkeley].

Higher Level Vertebrate Systematics

Vertebrates have been intensely studied, but many fundamental relationships remain unclear. Two of these questions are 1) The position of turtles within amniotes, and 2) The relationship between living amphibian groups: frogs, salamanders, and caecilians. To answer these question, I am using a genomics approach and a new statistical method to filter non-phylogenetic signal from the dataset. This work is being done in collaboration with Dr. Matthew K. Fujita [University of Texas, Arlington], Dr. Jeremy Brown [Louisiana State University], and Dr. Bastien Boussau [UC Berkeley].

Northeast Asian Phylogeography

Glacial cycles during the Pleistocene have influenced the flora and fauna of the world by contracting distributions during glacial maxima and allowing for expansion during glacial minima. Such is the case in Northeast Asia and it is unclear whether there was a single glacial refugium in Korea or several across the area. Working in collaboration with Dr. Pipeng Li [Shenyang Normal University], we are using several frog species (Bombina orientalis, Hyla japonica, Bufo stejnegeri, Bufo gargarizans) to try to unravel the history of Northeastern Asia.

Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) in Asia

Bd is a fungus that causes chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease of amphibians. In some parts of the world, Bd has caused population declines and extinctions of amphibian species. In Asia, Bd was first detected in Korea in 2009, and subsequently in many other countries. Interestingly, many amphibians in Asia are found to be infected with Bd, but show no clinical signs of the disease. It has been hypothesized that Bd originated in Asia, thus amphibians have evolved defenses against Bd. The goals of this work are to 1) understand the current distribution of Bd in Korea and 2) evaluate the history of Bd in Asia. This work is being done in the lab of Dr. Bruce Waldman, in collaboration with Dr Mi-Sook Min [Seoul National University] and Vance Vredenburg [San Francisco State University].

Metagenomic Study of Airborne Fungal Diversity

Spring in Korea coincides with peaks in allergies, fungal spore density, and Asian dust storms. We use a metagenomic approach to document the species composition, temporal shift, and identify fungal allergens in Seoul, Korea. We will compare the fungal diversity of  normal and Asian dust storm conditions. By understanding what fungal allergens are present in the air and the temporal change, we will be able to better diagnose and treat fungal allergies. This work is being done in the lab of Dr. Young Woon Lim [Seoul National University]

DNA barcoding of Korean Fungi

Fungi can be difficult to identify based solely on morphology. We are using the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) and 28S nuclear ribosomal large subunit (LSU) as barcode markers to study fungi in Korea. The first focus is the genus Russula. This work is being done in the lab of Dr. Young Woon Lim [Seoul National University]

eDNA Detection of Hong Kong Turtles

Turtles across Asia are disappearing due to hunting for the food and pet trades. A unique situation in Hong Kong is that wild population still exist. We are developing eDNA techniques to rapidly screen water and soil samples for the presence of native turtle species to aid in the study and conservation of these populations. This work has been funded by a UGC Early Career Scheme grant, and is being done in collaboration with Dr. Yik Hei Sung [Hong Kong Baptist University].