Postdoctoral Research Associate
Molecular Anthropology Lab
Institute of Ecology and Evolution
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97401, USA
e-mail: Maria Jose Ruiz-Lopez
Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain, M.S. in Biology, 2002
Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain, PhD in Biology, 2009
I have a broad interest in ecological and conservation genetics. Specifically I have an interest in understanding how demographic, ecological and behavioral factors shape genetic diversity at the population level and how in turn this is related to disease susceptibility, individual fitness, and ultimately population viability, especially in small and endangered populations. My main research interests could be summarized in three broad questions that range from the population to the individual level:
1) What are the consequences of habitat fragmentation on genetic population structure and social structure?
2) What is the relationship between social structure and levels of parasitism both from the host and parasite perspective?
3) What are the host genetic factors that determine susceptibility to disease? And what is the relative importance of genetic factors when compared with non-genetic factors?
To answer these questions my research combines information obtained in the field with genetic tools. I have special interest in Next-Generation sequencing tools and the possibilities they offer to study genetic population structure, disease transmission and susceptibility, and the potential for working with non-invasive samples.
i) Relative importance of genetic diversity for predicting parasite loads. As part of an NSF project developed by Dr. Matt Gompper and Dr. Lori Eggert we aim to understand what the relative importance of genetic diversity is to predict parasitism in an outbred population of raccoons. We approach the study of the relationship between genetic diversity and parasitism comprehensively, considering genetic and non-genetic factors in a model selection framework, addressing the differences that could result when studying different groups of parasites (ectoparasites, endoparasites, and viruses), and comparing the importance of neutral loci (microsatellites) and candidate loci (major histocompatibility complex – MHC Class II). This work is being carried out in collaboration with Dr Ryan Monello at the National Park Service and Dr. Stacey Lance at the Savannah River Ecology Lab, University of Georgia.
ii) Population genetics of small populations: In collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) we are using genetic tools to improve the conservation management of Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) in Cambodia and Lao PDR. Using DNA extracted from elephant dung samples, we are using multilocus genotypes as genetic tags for the purpose of estimating population sizes, and sex-specific markers to estimate sex ratios. In addition, we will combine the information to evaluate connectivity of different Asian Elephant populations, and changes in social structure associated with habitat fragmentation.