CAREER: An integrative genomic and biodemographic analysis of prehistoric human-environment interactions in an island ecosystem, with bioinformatics capacity development

Project: Research project

Project Details


This CAREER project will apply new biological and computer science methods to study recent changes in the population sizes of humans, domesticated agricultural species, and endangered native animals all living in the same habitat. The results will help us understand how human population growth affects natural populations of wild species, and the complex interactions among people, domesticated animals, and the environment. The study will advance science through the development of new genomic methods and computational 'big data' analyses (bioinformatics) for analyzing genomic data. These methods will initially be applied to a study of people, their cattle, and two endangered lemur species in Madagascar, which is an ideal site because humans first arrived to the island relatively recently (several thousand years ago). Research on human-environment interactions in other regions of the world, including North America where human-environment interaction started earlier, will also benefit from these methods. The educational component of the project will involve the annual delivery of bioinformatics training workshops to diverse audiences; participating students will develop biological and computer science skills that separately and together will have wide scientific and industrial training applicability.

The scientific aims of this proposal include reconstructing high-resolution demographic histories for Malagasy people, their commensal domesticated cattle, and two widely-distributed endemic lemur species, all with temporal resolution relevant to the recent timeline of human history on the island. These results, made possible by the application of novel population genomic methods developed by the principal investigator, will be compared to each other and to available paleoclimate data to develop an integrated empirical model of the history of anthropogenic effects on Madagascar's biodiversity. Madagascar is an important island for studying the processes and consequences of human-environment interaction. The people of Madagascar have an interesting history because of their relatively recent arrival to the island, their mixed Austronesian and African ancestry, and because of their relationship to one of the world's most biologically diverse, endemic and threatened ecologies. This work will empirically transform our understanding of the history of anthropogenic effects on Madagascar's biodiversity and establish an integrative research framework for application to other regions of the world where Holocene resource use intensification and human-environment interaction are likewise topics of major interest. A centerpiece of the educational component of this project is the annual delivery of interactive-style bioinformatics training workshops that build on the integration of biological and computational science that is central to the research. The most advanced workshop will be integrated with the project's scientific aims through ?hackathon?-style development of computational tools for analyses of the genomic data generated in this study. Joint funding for this project is provided by the National Science Foundation's Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE).

Effective start/end date8/1/167/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $465,123.00


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