by Fraser Combe
I am currently conducting a PhD in the Conservation, Evolution and Behaviour research group with Dr Edwin Harris. I use Hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) as a model species to understand how habitat variables associate with dormouse presence/absence and how this may influence gene flow between populations at several spatial scales.
Hazel dormice are a species which are threatened in the UK with declining populations due to anthropogenic disturbance in the form of habitat reduction and fragmentation leading to an estimated decline of 64% across the UK. This has led to the creation of a National dormice monitoring programme with over 2000 volunteers nationwide which survey dormice nest boxes several times a year to monitor population levels. Currently we are working with Chester Zoo, National Resource Wales and Suffolk Wildlife trust to gain further insights into the ecology of dormice within the UK.
My research interests are aimed at using molecular tools to conduct a landscape genetics approach to inform spatially-explicit predictions of the impacts of landscape features on species dispersal and how this can aid the future conservation management of this threatened species within the UK. Dispersal corridors have been created between small woodlands (such as Hedgerow creation and restoration) in order to support the movement of dormice. We aim to test how these corridors aid the genetic health of a population and how other landscape features such as roads and railways may impact on the dispersal of a species.
A second part of my research, I have conducted a UK wide phylogeographical study in order to understand how historical processes have shaped the current distribution of dormice within the UK. This will identify whether there is any regional genetic variation within the UK providing Information which will aid the re-introductions of dormice back to their lost ranges in northern and central counties. I am also interested in applying Bayesian occupancy modelling techniques with mark-recapture data for estimating population and demographic parameters that can improve precision relative to traditional methods, the first time in a small mammal species. This will reveal further information on a population’s status which when integrated with genetic information will greatly improve our knowledge of this elusive species.
This work is generously funded by the People trust for Endangered species and the Genetic Society.