UM Professor Earns CAREER Grant to Study Conservation Genomics

March 16, 2017

Andrew WhiteleyMISSOULA – University of Montana Assistant Professor Andrew Whiteley recently received the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award for junior faculty.

The Faculty Early Career Development award, also known as a CAREER grant, is rewarded annually to faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of both education and research.

“Receiving an NSF Early Career Award is a huge accomplishment and highlights Andrew’s creativity, productivity and upward trajectory,” said Tom DeLuca, dean of the University’s W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation. “The NSF Early Career Award will provide him with foundational support that will be extremely helpful to Andrew in enhancing what is already an impressive start to his career.”

Whiteley, an assistant professor of fisheries and conservation genomics, will receive more than $800,000 over five years to work on a project titled “The Influence of Gene Flow on Inbreeding and Local Adaptation: Replicated Experiments in Isolated Wild Populations.” Whiteley and his graduate students will experimentally translocate small numbers of trout among isolated natural populations as a window into understanding the effects of this gene exchange.

Although conservationists have substantial interest in using strategic translocating of animals or plants – a concept termed “genetic rescue” – to help save isolated populations from extinction, concerns about the possible negative consequences of genetic exchange have limited its application.

“Stream habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented, and this can lead to the loss of entire populations of fish and other aquatic organisms,” Whiteley said. “Our work will help resolve some longstanding questions in evolutionary biology and will provide a much-needed test of the concept of genetic rescue as a tool for conservation.”

Whiteley’s research will use innovative educational approaches to increase knowledge of conservation biology and genetic principles for undergraduates in the nation’s leading wildlife biology program. Whiteley also will partner with college colleague Libby Metcalf and the spectrUM Broader Impacts Group on campus to bring aspects of his research program to rural Montana middle school students.

Each year, between 350 and 400 assistant professors nationally earn CAREER grants, which generally range from $400,000 to $1 million over five years.

For more information about the CAREER program, visit https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=503214

Contact: Andrew Whiteley, UM assistant professor of fisheries and conservation genomics, 406-243-6334, andrew.whiteley@mso.umt.edu.