19th century museum specimens help plan reintroduction of endangered tiger beetle

CHICAGO--When conservation biologists decide how to protect an endangered animal or reintroduce one to an area from which it has disappeared, they consider many factors, such as how many genetically distinct populations are involved, where they came from, and who their ancestors were.

But the very problem such scientists are trying to address the animal's disappearance makes it hard to answer these questions. Examining the DNA of museum specimens, however, can fill information gaps caused by the lack of living animals in key locations. This is what two scientists have done to help guide the reintroduction of the Northeastern Beach Tiger Beetle into areas from which it has been wiped out by human activity.

"We have aimed the 21st century technology of DNA sequencing at museum specimens from the 19th and 20th centuries to address current conservation issues," said Paul Goldstein, PhD, an insect curator at the Field Museum.

Dr. Goldstein and co-author Rob DeSalle, PhD, of the American Museum of Natural History discuss their work in a paper published in next month's issue (July) of Molecular Ecology.

The tiger beetle, Cicindela d. dorsalis, has undergone a precipitous decline in the last 100 years. Once commonly found along sandy beaches from Massachusetts to the Chesapeake Bay, only one viable population remains north of the Chesapeake Bay on the island of Martha's Vineyard. As a result of their limited dispersal and declining numbers, the tiger beetle was listed under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1991.

The researchers surveyed museum specimens collected from 21 towns up and down the Northeast Coast between 1885 and 1971. They examined the specimens for the presence of a small-scale DNA shuffle (called a single nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP) to help understand the current genetic variation that exists between the New England population and the Chesapeake Bay populations.

They discovered considerably more variation at thi

Contact: Greg Borzo
Field Museum

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