We aim to study mammals and how they react to human driven changes.
We are currently in the sixth mass extinction on our planet, the Anthropocene, and the primary driver for mammal extinction is the loss and fragmentation of habitat. The Earth’s surface is covered by more than 4 billion ha of forest habitats that account for approximately 31% of the total land area of the planet. Approximately 3.3 million ha of net forest loss occurred from 2010-2015, resulting in the fragmentation of key habitats on the planet. The Atlantic Forest of South America has experienced extreme levels of deforestation. The second-largest moist forest system in South America after the Amazon, the Atlantic Forest extends from northeastern Brazil along the coastline to southern Brazil, and inland into eastern Paraguay and northern Argentina. The Atlantic Forest is considered one of the major “hotspots” for biodiversity in the world. Approximately 12% and 20% of the original Atlantic Forest remains in Brazil and Paraguay, respectively. Major changes to the Atlantic Forest from anthropogenic activities did not begin until about the 1940s in Paraguay The Atlantic Forest in Paraguay was reduced by 30% in 20 years (1970 to 1990) and by 2000 it was reduced to only one fourth of its original extent, mostly due to soybean cultivation. Thus, a logical subsequent question is what is the effect of this deforestation on regional biodiversity? We use small mammals as a proxy to understand the effects of deforestation from the species to landscape scale.
Cacao is the main ingredient for chocolate, estimated at $80 billion global market. Demand for cacao is expected to increase by ~30% by 2020. The West Africa cacao industry accounts for ~70% of the world supply, led by Côte d’Ivoire (40%). In the last few decades, extensive expansion of no-shade cacao production has become the primary driver for forest degradation and deforestation of West Africa, primarily Côte d’Ivoire, where there are major gaps in basic mammalian knowledge. While some studies have reported greater biodiversity in cacao systems versus other anthropogenic land uses, these benefits are still not necessarily comparable to biodiversity in forest systems. We conducted sampling in five major habitat including primary and secondary forest, fallow, rubber, and cacao farms. We are currently working to improve our understanding of the species that are found in this country and the impact that deforestation for the production of cacao having on patterns of biodiversity. We are currently implementing various molecular and morphometric tools to study the small mammals, rodents and shrews, as a proxy to understand biodiversity. Our preliminary analyses suggest that cacao production has considerably changes the original Guinean Forest small mammal assemblages.
Chicago was recently named the ‘rat capital’ of the US! With increased urban areas throughout the world, invasive species are becoming a large part of everyday life in cities. These species have been reported to have negative impact in public health and infrastructure, in addition to the peace of mind of the citizenry. We are building a team from Chicago State, The Field Museum (Felix Grewe), and the Lincoln Park Zoo to study population genetics of the urban brown rat in the Chicagoland area. Our project team will address questions dealing with origin of these species, population size, populations genetic variation and relatedness, and essentially connectivity of populations and gene flow. Our understanding of these dynamics will be valuable in three main ways: First, by the evaluation of population patterns of rats in Chicago; second, by understanding the origins and connectivity that allow population growth; and third, by using these patterns for effective population control mechanisms in the city that are backed by the population dynamics.