Snow Leopards at the University of Delaware (wait a second...)

If you follow me on social media, you likely already know what the post title is about. For those just dropping in, I'm excited to clarify what it means: I'm doing snow leopard research. I recently accepted a PhD position in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware investigating landscape genetics/genomics of snow leopards. I'm working with Panthera, one of the world's premier wild cat conservation organizations. I'm collaborating with some really excellent scientists in both genetics and quantitative ecology, and our efforts will address range-wide questions about what structures populations of snow leopards and how this could change in the future. To say that I am excited for this project, and to complete my PhD, is a gross understatement.

A curious snow leopard. Photo by Panthera.

A curious snow leopard. Photo by Panthera.

Over the next four years I'll be extracting DNA from individual snow leopard scat (that's poop) to process their genotypes- think of this as unique puzzle pieces of DNA- and comparing them with other snow leopards. Identifying genetically distinct populations can be very informative for wildlife conservation and management, and is much needed for snow leopards. If you don't think this sounds too exciting (and I have no idea why you wouldn't- I mean come on, science!), don't worry- I'll be traveling overseas as well. I'll be doing lab work in at least one country and field work in another. I'm excited to traverse the high elevation mountains of Asia, and hopefully spot these elusive cats. 

Getting excited about coyote scat!

Getting excited about coyote scat!

I've been in Delaware for just under a month, and things are going really well. I'm a teaching assistant for mammalogy, which is a class that focuses on the natural history, anatomy, physiology, and evolution of mammalia. Being a student again is actually quite exciting, as I enjoy the fast pace of academia and being part of an environment so saturated with scientific minds. I am actually getting ready to proctor my student's first big exam on bats, shrews and moles, and bones, so be sure to check back soon for more posts on snow leopards, and a recap of my summer with Pacific martens. 

Snow leopards are habitat specialists in that they require areas of high elevation and low temperature. This makes them sensitive to issues like climate change. Photo by Panthera.

Snow leopards are habitat specialists in that they require areas of high elevation and low temperature. This makes them sensitive to issues like climate change. Photo by Panthera.

For those of you interested in learning more about the natural history, conservation needs, and current research efforts worldwide with snow leopards, check out the fantastic text "Snow Leopards: Biodiversity of the World: From Genes to Landscapes."