Understanding genetic diversity and barriers to gene flow is vital for effective conservation management, whilst simultaneously increasing our understanding of how speciation occurs.
By using comparative analyses between penguin species, I aim to reveal the factors that are most important in producing the population genetic structure that we see. Differences in life-histories, habitat preferences or physical barriers are some of the mechanisms which create different patterns of population structure in closely-related, sympatric species. Alternatively, shared histories over geological time-scales may have produced shared patterns of genetic structure, for example if populations were isolated in glacial refugia. My research on penguins has been focused on characterising the population structure of multiple species of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic penguins, in order to perform these comparative analyses.
I am also interested in how climate change throughout the Holocene has affected penguin populations, from the high Antarctic to temperate latitudes. To do this, I am reconstructing historical population sizes for multiple species and populations, using both ancient and modern DNA. I then correlate these changes in population size with paleoclimatic conditions, to show how periods of past climate change affected penguin populations.