Sea Otter Population Genomics

We will sequence the sea otter genome to assess the effects of the fur trade bottleneck on genomic diversity and genetic load.


Forward-in-time Poisson Random Field simulations demonstrating how sea otter genetic load (decrease in fitness to due harmful alleles) may have increased due to the fur trade population bottleneck.

Sea otters were hunted to near-extinction during the 18th-19th centuries. Only six remnant populations of fewer than 100 individuals survived, many of which have recovered dramatically over the past century. With Bob Wayne (UCLA), Kirk Lohmueller (UCLA), Klaus-Peter Koepfli (Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute) and James Estes (UC Santa Cruz), I am developing a project to sequence the de novo sea otter genome and combine ancient and modern sea otter genomic data from across the species’ range to assess the effect of this extreme bottleneck on the sea otter genome. I am currently carrying out forward-in-time simulations based on population histories drawn from the literature to model the effect of the fur trade bottleneck on genetic diversity and genetic load (decrease in fitness due to harmful genetic variants) in sea otter populations.

[The featured image is artist John Webber’s “Sea Otter” c. 1780, based on his observations as a member of Captain Cook’s third Pacific voyage.]

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