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Back from the Brink: Trent Faculty Helps Uncover Genetic Signatures Associated with 18th/19th Century Seal Hunting 

December 6, 2018

Dr. Aaron Shafer’s research on bottleneck pinnipeds published in leading online journal

Dr. Aaron Shafer

On the brink of extinction, 11 breeds of seals have recovered and repopulated due, in part, to research completed by one of Trent University’s leading faculty members, Dr. Aaron Shafer.

Professor Shafer’s research on pinnipeds was recently published in the leading online journal, Nature Communications. His research examines the factors influencing genetic diversity among seals, sea lions and walruses (also known as pinnipeds). The genetic diversity among bottleneck pinnipeds has been a primary focus of Prof. Shafer’s work.

“Population genetics provide a window into the past and present; in the case of pinnipeds, we were able to see that where they breed and the harvest history has left a signature on their genome,” explains Prof. Shafer. “We also see a clear link between genetic diversity and IUCN conservation status, reiterating the value of genetic data in identifying species that require added protection measures”

Pinnipeds have historically been heavily hunted, leading this species almost to the point of extinction. Pinnipeds live and breed on a diverse array of habitats, ranging from arctic to Antarctic, ice and land. This wide range of habitats have led to the species population recovery and increase.

The bottlenecked pinnipeds were the most endangered of the pinniped species due to strength of the population decline, which is associated with breeding and the variation in their mating system, notably bearing their young on land, resulted in the loss of diversity. The bottleneck pinnipeds were also mostly likely accessible to hunters, and most profitable due to their high densities.