Andrea Townsend

An article by Associate Professor of Biology Andrea Townsend, and co-authors Caroline Chivily ’19 and Casey McAndrews ’21, among others, appears in the June issue of Molecular Ecology.

The article, “Increased genetic diversity and immigration after West Nile virus emergence in American crows: No evidence for a genetic bottleneck,” demonstrates how the West Nile virus epidemic actually increased genetic diversity in crows by increasing movement of birds among populations. At the same time, however, inbreeding became more common within the crow population, possibly because of the disruption of their stable family groups.

According to the researchers, these results (increased genetic diversity at the population level; increased inbreeding) suggest that the West Nile epidemic could have very different implications for the ability of crows to deal with future pathogen risks. A more genetically diverse population might be more resilient, as a whole, to new diseases. On the other hand, they say, the inbred individuals within the population are likely to be more susceptible to certain diseases.

Researchers from the University of California at Davis, Rochester University, Binghamton University, the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, and Sungkyunkwan University contributed to the article.

This summer, Townsend is participating in a study that examines the migratory movements of American crows using genetic markers. The research is funded by a $34,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded to Colorado State University, which will compensate Townsend for her work on the project.

With help from collaborators across North America, Townsend will collect genetic samples from American crows and create the genoscape in Colorado State’s Ruegg lab. She will use this genoscape to understand the migratory pathways of crows and to compare behavioral and other phenotypic differences between migratory and sedentary birds overwintering in the same populations.

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