Kristen Ruegg

Assistant Adjunct Professor UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

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I am generally interested in understanding the mechanisms that generate and maintain species diversity. The methods I use are integrative, combining field-based behavioral studies, population genetics, GIS-based ecological modeling, and acoustic analysis.

Conservation genetics of Whales: In the late 1800's over-hunting of whales caused significant population declines in many species. Genetic tools can be used to estimate pre-whaling population sizes and such estimates may help inform current management. As a postdoctoral research in the Palumbi lab, I am helping to estimate historical population sizes of N. Atlantic Humpback whales using genetic data.

Migration and speciation: The role that differences in migratory behavior play in maintaining and/or promoting divergence between closely related groups of birds is unknown. As a Ph.D. student in Craig Moritz's lab, I sought to address this question by focusing on how differences in migratory pathways, wintering locations and arrival times on the breeding grounds influenced gene flow between subspecies of Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus and C. swainsoni).

Conservation genetics of Nearctic-Neotropical migratory songbirds: Over the last several decades many songbird species have experienced precipitous population declines. Developing conservations strategies requires knowledge of where populations, breed, winter and stop-over during migration. In collaboration with the Tom Smith at Center for Tropical Research at UCLA and Jeff Kelly at the Oklahoma Biological Survey, I have helped develop genetic and isotopic markers to track populations of Swainson's Thrush throughout the annual cycle.

Ecology and evolution of birdsong: Factors driving the evolution of vocal diversity in oscine passerines remain unclear. In collaboration with Hans Slabbekoorn at Leiden University in the Netherlands, I have been investigating the relative importance of ecological versus genetic factors in driving the evolution of song in Swainson's Thrush.