Last Updated October, 2010

Aquatic Vertebrate Molecular Ecology Laboratoryshapeimage_3_link_0

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“Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries. A country blessed with mountains, jungle, rivers and ocean…two oceans.”

Two oceans that have been exploited even though we still don´t know all the treasures they hide. In these oceans approximately 32 species of marine mammals have been reported. That without taking into consideration the aquatic mammals found in the big rivers, like the Orinoco and the Amazon. Dolphins and whales, manatees and river otters. From this species variety only five or six have been studied in a systematic way for a number of years. Hundreds of fish and reptile species, some of which have been exploited for human consumption or ornamental use without ever studying them.

This    knowledge     is    essential     to    define management units in management and conservation plans. The aim of conservation genetics is to minimize the risk of extinction of a population or species, identifying its population structure and its levels of genetic diversity. It can also help to solve questions about itaxonomy and systematics, investigate migration patterns and its reproductive characteristics.

The laboratory (LEMVA) works in collaboration with Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) with renown experience in research and conservation of various aquatic vertebrate species in Colombia, including Fundación Omacha (river dolphins, river otters, manatees, caiman, ornamental fish), Fundación Yubarta (humpback whales and marine dolphins), Fundación Malpelo (sharks), and Marviva (Tuna) . At the International level, we collaborate with scientists in the United States (Dr. Healy Hamilton-California Academy of Sciences) and Dr. Scott Baker-Oregon State University), Puerto Rico (Dr. Antonio Mignucci-Giannoni-Caribbean- Stranding Network and Puerto Rico Manatee Conservation Center), Chile (Dr. Carlos Olavarría-Centro de Estudios del Cuaternario and Dr. Julianna Vianna-Universidad Andrés Bello), Brazil (Dr. Fabricio Santos-Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais), Nueva Zelanda (Dr. Ian Hogg-Universidad de Waikato), Ecuador (Fernando Felix- Fundación Ecuatoriana para el Estudio de los Mamíferos Marinos) and Venezuela (Héctor Barrios-Garrido-Universidad del Zulia).

                                                                                                                    Susana Caballero Ph.D

Why are aquatic vertebrates important? Big fish, like sharks for example, aquatic mammals and big reptiles, like caiman, are top predators and they regulate trophic chains both in the ocean and in the big rivers. Pollution, habitat destruction, overfishing and directed hunting, all human actions, have a direct effect on their populations. Studying the effects that these issues have on these organisms may be indicating how they may also be affecting human populations. And, aquatic vertebrates are a resource that, well managed, could provide employment and benefits to the local populations in many Colombian regions.

The study of genetic diversity, known as conservation genetics and molecular ecology, uses applies molecular techniques to determine how “genetically healthy” are natural populations, to determine their evolutionary potencial and to identify populations that have distinctive genetic characteristics and significantly different to other populations.