NSF Postdoctoral Fellowships in Biology combine research and training components to prepare young scientists for careers in biology and require a plan to broaden participation of groups under-represented in science and engineering. The fellowships advance NSF efforts to diversify the STEM workforce now and in the future. This fellowship to Andreas Chavez supports a research and training plan on the mechanisms by which changes at the level of the gene govern adaptation and speciation in a mammalian population. The host institution for this fellowship is the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ) at the University of California, Berkeley, and the sponsoring scientist is Dr. Michael Nachman.
A great challenge in evolutionary biology is to understand the genetic bases of traits involved in adaptation and reproductive isolation to a broader variety of organisms. This challenge is being met for non-model organisms with new genome sequencing resources. Hybrid zones are useful systems to apply new molecular tools for studies of adaptation and speciation because admixture-mapping methods can be utilized for uncovering the genetic architecture of phenotypic traits, as well as disclose the number, effect size, and genomic distribution of loci that contribute to reproductive isolation. This research expands previous hybrid zone studies on a pair of sister tree squirrels (Tamiasciurus) that exhibit divergence in ecologically important traits along an environmental gradient. Training goals include learning new genomic sequencing techniques and emerging admixture mapping methods that can be applied to non-model organisms. The Fellow is broadening participation and research opportunities at the MVZ for undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds in biology. These research opportunities are arranged with the help of the Biology Scholars Program (BSP) in the biology department. Linking the MVZ and BSP is effective for improving diversity in the ecology and evolutionary disciplines because the MVZ has a long tradition of providing undergraduate research opportunities and the BSP has a long track record of assisting undergraduate students from backgrounds that are historically under-represented in biology.