Maintaining Genetic Diversity Under the Endangered Species Act

EPA Grant Number: F6E11028
Title: Maintaining Genetic Diversity Under the Endangered Species Act
Investigators: Börk, Karrigan S.
Institution: University of California - Davis , Stanford University
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: September 1, 2006 through September 1, 2009
Project Amount: $111,344
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2006) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Fellowship - Ecology


I plan to determine best practices in the use of both neutral and adaptive genomic data in listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act and then demonstrate the best practices by applying them to a particular population of Salmonids.

This research facilitates the long-term protection of endangered species by demonstrating how current law can protect intraspecific diversity and adaptability vital to species survival.


This project entails a case study of Federal and state agency decisions and associated case law related to listing decisions. I will begin with salmonid fishes, although a dearth of case law may require broadening the scope to all listed species. These cases will be reviewed in light of the intent of the Act and the biologic data available from genomic studies on the listed species in order to develop a set of policy-relevant best practices, enumerating the state of the art in the use of genetic data under the Act. This will also involve a review of the literature on available genomic markers, including both neutral and adaptive markers, and their appropriate conservation applications.

After generating the best practices, I plan to analyze one salmonid population in the context of the Act in order to apply the lessons learned. Microsatellite analysis will allow me to understand and document the intrapopulation and interspecies gene flow, thereby providing a better understanding genetic diversity within the species. This data will determine if the population could be eligible for listing under the Act. I would like to follow this work by looking at the diversity in adaptive traits within the population to determine whether the variation revealed by neutral markers has significant parallels in the population’s reservoir of adaptability.

Expected Results:

This research will help policy makers understand how well the Act is able to ensure the long-term survival of endangered species under changing environmental conditions. It will elucidate the genetic underpinnings that determine if a given population can be protected under the Act. This work benefits the environment by improving our ability both to protect species now and to safeguard the species capacity to adapt to future conditions. Species protection is fundamental to ecosystem health and resilience, and maintaining these species is vital to EPA’s Strategic Plan Goal 4: Healthy Communities and Ecosystems.

Supplemental Keywords:

Endangered Species Act, ESA, salmonids, genetic markers, neutral variation, adaptive variation, conservation, biodiversity,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, ECOSYSTEMS, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, exploratory research environmental biology, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Chemical Mixtures - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecosystem Protection, Monitoring/Modeling, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecological Effects - Human Health, Environmental Monitoring, Species, Ecological Indicators, policy analysis, biodiversity, endangered species, environmental decision-making, conservation biology, fish , adaptation

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2007
  • 2008
  • Final