I am a wildlife geneticist that utilizes genomics, GIS technology, and a variety of informatic techniques to examine how environmental heterogeneity impacts genomic variation in wild populations. My work covers many species and questions due to the varied impacts of environmental heterogeneity, from how past climatic events influence biodiversity to the connectivity of imperiled species and population dynamics of invasive species.
My work in phylogeography has largely focused on widespread species like carnivores and ungulates. Despite these species’ tendencies to be generalists and highly mobile, evolutionary histories vary widely. For example, I have documented deep divergence between lineages in gray fox and little structure in American badgers (left). Identifying areas of secondary contact and hybridization between these lineages are also important for understanding reproductive isolation and adaptation of evolutionary lineages, so much of my phylogenetic work also focuses on hybrid zones in North America (e.g., Great Plains and Pacific Northwest). Going forward, genomics offers an exciting toolkit to investigate adaptive variation and gene flow within evolutionary lineages, and ultimately examine evolutionary mechanisms across time and space.
Conservation and Landscape Genetics
Examining human impacts on imperiled populations
Losses in connectivity and genetic diversity are major concerns for many species as human activities increase across the globe. Both connectivity and genetic diversity are considered essential for healthy populations, so my work uses a combination of mapping software, modeling techniques, and genetic data to identify areas that are important for connectivity and genetic diversity. Much of my interests in this area fall under landscape genetics, a rapidly evolving field that seeks to link landscape and genetic connectivity (Right). Landscape genetics can identify corridors and landscape factors that hinder gene flow, and thus, is becoming an essential consideration for conservation. With the advent of genomic methods, my future interests in conservation and landscape genetics is to correlate adaptive variation to landscape heterogeneity to aid conservation efforts to maintain healthy populations.
Urban Ecology and Invasive Species
Genetic monitoring of managed species
Another aspect of my research is monitoring of abundant species that benefit from humans. Invasive and overly abundant species, for example, often were either introduced by humans or utilize modified landscapes. These species can be a major threat to biodiversity by direct competition or predation on native ecosystems, and cause billions in damages each year. Thus, my work seeks to evaluate management actions to control overly abundant (e.g., coyotes in Southeast; left) and invasive species (e.g., pigs and nutria) and examine how they adapt so well in new habitats. My future work also aims to understand how mesocarnivores are able to adapt to urban landscapes, particularly in terms of movement and novel diets.
Kierepka EM, Anderson SJ, Swihart RK, Rhodes Jr OE (2020) Differing landscape effects on genetic diversity and differentiation in eastern chipmunks. Heredity. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41437-020-0293-0.
Davis AJ, Keiter DA, Kierepka EM, Slootmaker C, Piaggio AJ, Beasley JC, Pepin KM (2020) A comparison of cost and quality of three methods for estimating density for wild pig (Sus scrofa). Scientific Reports 10: 1-14.
Kierepka EM, Juarez R, Turner K, Smith J, Hamilton M, Lyons P, Hall MA, Beasley JC, Rhodes Jr OE (2019) Population genetics of invasive brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularis) on Guam, USA. Herpetologica 75: 208-217.
Engeman RM, Byrd RW, Dozier J, McAlister MA, Edens JO, Kierepka EM, Smyser T, Myers N (2019) The origins, impacts, behavior, and insular elimination of feral swine, an internationally distributed invasive species severely harming a sea turtle reproduction at an important nesting beach. Acta Oecologica 99: 103442.
Kanine KM, Kierepka EM, Mengak MT, Castleberry SB, Nibbelink NP (2018) Influence of landscape heterogeneity on the functional connectivity of Allegheny woodrats (Neotoma magister) in Virginia. Conservation Genetics 19: 1259-1268.
Milligan BG, Archer FI, Ferchaud A, Hand BK, Kierepka EM, Waples RS (2018) Disentangling genetic structure for genetic monitoring of complex populations. Evolutionary Applications 11: 1149-1161.
Kierepka EM, Kilgo JC, Rhodes Jr OE (2017) Effect of compensatory immigration on the genetic structure of coyotes. The Journal of Wildlife Management 81: 1394-1407.
Kierepka EM, Unger SD, Keiter DA, Beasley JC, Rhodes Jr OE, Cunningham F, Piaggio AJ (2016) Identification of robust microsatellite markers for wild pig fecal DNA in humid climates. The Journal of Wildlife Management 80: 1120-1128.
Kierepka EM, Anderson SJ, Swihart RK, Rhodes Jr OE (2016) Evaluating the influence of life history characteristics on genetic structure: a comparison of small mammals inhabiting complex agricultural landscapes. Ecology and Evolution 6: 6376-6396.
Kierepka EM, Latch EK (2016) High gene flow in the American badger overrides habitat preferences and limits broadscale genetic structure. Molecular Ecology 25: 6055-6076.
Kierepka EM, Latch EK (2016) Fine-scale landscape genetics of the American badger (Taxidea taxus): disentangling landscape effects and sampling artifacts in a poorly understood species. Heredity 116: 33-43.
Kierepka EM, Latch EK. (2015) Performance of partial statistics in individual-based landscape genetics. Molecular Ecology Resources 15: 512-525.
Anderson SJ, Kierepka EM, Latch EK, Swihart RK, Rhodes Jr OE (2015). Assessing the permeability of landscape features to animal movement: the value of using genetic legacies. PloS One 10: e0117500.
Kierepka EM, Latch EK, Swanson BJ (2012). Influence of sampling scheme on the inference of sex-biased gene flow in the American badger (Taxidea taxus). Canadian Journal of Zoology 90: 1231-1242.
Latch EK, Kierepka EM, Heffelfinger JR, Rhodes Jr OE (2011) Hybrid swarm between divergent lineages of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus). Molecular Ecology 24: 5265-5279.