Dr. Amy Vandergast is a Research Geneticist with the Western Ecological Research Center, where she develops and leads a research program in Conservation and Landscape Genetics and Genomics. Broadly, she seeks to understand how natural and human induced landscape and environmental change impact populations, and shape evolutionary potential. Dr. Vandergast's laboratory group approaches genetic research to inform conservation in three focal areas. 1) At the population level, the team estimates important population parameters such as effective migration (or gene flow) and the number of breeding adults (or effective population size), and quantifies the impacts of landscape changes and disturbance on these parameters. This work informs individual species management. 2) Dr. Vandergast's lab also merges genetic data with mapping and modeling tools to inform biodiversity conservation efforts. Specifically, they define evolutionary significant units within species, reveal evolutionary mechanisms responsible for diversification, and identify regions with high genetic diversity for protection. 3) The team develops genetic approaches for species detection, individual mark recapture, and studies ecological associations (such as predator/prey relationships). These techniques often increase monitoring effectiveness and efficiency when replacing or combining with standard field methodologies.
- Landscape genetics
- Population genetics
- Conservation biology
- Habitat fragmentation
- Terrestrial invertebrate ecology and evolution
- Linkage design and monitoring
- Ph.D., Environmental Science, Policy & Management: Division of Insect Biology, University of California, Berkeley (2002)
- M.S., Department of Zoology; Ecology, Evolution & Conservation Biology, University of Hawaii, Manoa (1998)
- B.S., Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, University of California, San Diego (1995)
- Geneticist. USGS Western Ecological Research Center, San Diego Field Station (2004-Present)
- Adjunct Research Professor. San Diego State University, Department of Biology (2002-Present)
- Lecturer. San Diego State University, Department of Biology and Cuyamaca College Department of Biology (2002)
Science and Products
At the population level, Dr. Amy Vandergast and her team estimates important population parameters such as effective migration (or gene flow) and the number of breeding adults (or effective population size), and quantify the impacts of landscape changes and disturbance on these parameters. This work informs individual species management.
WERC's Dr. Amy Vandergast and colleagues merge genetic data with mapping and modeling tools to inform biodiversity conservation efforts. They define evolutionary significant units within species, reveal evolutionary mechanisms responsible for diversification, and identify regions with high genetic diversity for protection.
Dr. Amy Vandergast and team develop genetic approaches for species detection, individual mark recapture, and studying ecological associations (such as predator/prey relationships). These techniques often increase monitoring effectiveness and efficiency when replacing or combining with standard field methodologies.
Genetic Landscapes GIS Toolbox: Tools to create genetic divergence and diversity landscapes in ArcGIS
A new analysis approach in landscape genetics and phylogeography is the creation of “genetic landscapes” to visualize genetic structure across geographic space. The Genetic Landscapes GIS Toolbox contains four tools to map genetic landscapes and to summarize multiple genetic landscapes as average and variance surfaces in ArcGIS ® (Environmental Science Research Institute, Redlands, CA, USA).
An evaluation of the efficacy of using environmental DNA (eDNA) to detect giant gartersnakes (Thamnophis gigas)
Detecting populations of rare or cryptic species is essential for their conservation. For species like giant gartersnakes (Thamnophis gigas), conventional survey methods can be expensive and inefficient. These sampling difficulties might be overcome by modern techniques that detect deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) shed by organisms into the environment...Halstead, Brian J.; Wood, Dustin A.; Bowen, Lizabeth; Waters, Shannon C.; Vandergast, Amy G.; Ersan, Julia S.; Skalos, Shannon M.; Casazza, Michael L.
Tackling an intractable problem: Can greater taxon sampling help resolve relationships within the Stenopelmatoidea (Orthoptera: Ensifera)?
The relationships among and within the families that comprise the orthopteran superfamily Stenopelmatoidea (suborder Ensifera) remain poorly understood. We developed a phylogenetic hypothesis based on Bayesian analysis of two nuclear ribosomal and one mitochondrial gene for 118 individuals (84 de novo and 34 from GenBank). These included...Vandergast, Amy; Weissman, David B; Wood, Dustin; Rentz, David C F; Bazelet, Corinna S; Ueshima, Norihiro
Incorporating genetic sampling in long-term monitoring and adaptive management in the San Diego County Management Strategic Plan Area, Southern California
Habitat and species conservation plans usually rely on monitoring to assess progress towards conservation goals. Southern California, USA, is a hotspot of biodiversity and home to many federally endangered and threatened species. Here, several regional multi-species conservation plans have been implemented to balance development and conservation...Vandergast, Amy G.
Persistence of historical population structure in an endangered species despite near-complete biome conversion in California's San Joaquin Desert
Genomic responses to habitat conversion can be rapid, providing wildlife managers with time-limited opportunities to enact recovery efforts that use population connectivity information that reflects predisturbance landscapes. Despite near-complete biome conversion, such opportunities may still exist for the endemic fauna and flora of California's...Richmond, Jonathan Q.; Wood, Dustin A.; Westphal, Michael F.; Vandergast, Amy; Leache, Adam D.; Saslaw, Lawrence; Butterfield, H. Scott; Fisher, Robert N.
Lineage diversification of fringe-toed lizards (Phrynosomatidae: Uma notata complex) in the Colorado Desert: Delimiting species in the presence of gene flow
Multi-locus nuclear DNA data were used to delimit species of fringe-toed lizards of theUma notata complex, which are specialized for living in wind-blown sand habitats in the deserts of southwestern North America, and to infer whether Quaternary glacial cycles or Tertiary geological events were important in shaping the historical biogeography of...Gottscho, Andrew D.; Wood, Dustin A.; Vandergast, Amy; Lemos Espinal, Julio A.; Gatesy, John; Reeder, Tod
A century of landscape disturbance and urbanization of the San Francisco Bay region affects the present-day genetic diversity of the California Ridgway’s Rail (Rallus obsoletus obsoletus)
Fragmentation and loss of natural habitat have important consequences for wild populations and can negatively affect long-term viability and resilience to environmental change. Salt marsh obligate species, such as those that occupy the San Francisco Bay Estuary in western North America, occupy already impaired habitats as result of human...Wood, Dustin A.; Bui, Thuy-Vy D.; Overton, Cory T.; Vandergast, Amy; Casazza, Michael L.; Hull, Joshua M.; Takekawa, John Y.
Historical habitat barriers prevent ring-like genetic continuity throughout the distribution of threatened Alameda Striped Racers (Coluber lateralis euryxanthus)
We used microsatellites and mtDNA sequences to examine the mixed effects of geophysical, habitat, and contemporary urban barriers on the genetics of threatened Alameda Striped Racers (Coluber lateralis euryxanthus), a species with close ties to declining coastal scrub and chaparral habitat in the eastern San Francisco Bay area of California. We...Richmond, Jonathan Q.; Wood, Dustin A.; Swaim, Karen; Fisher, Robert N.; Vandergast, Amy
Non-invasive genetic sampling of Southern Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus fuliginatus) reveals limited movement across California State Route 67 in San Diego County
—The Southern Mule Deer is a mobile but non-migratory large mammal found throughout southern California and is a covered species in the San Diego Multi-Species Conservation Plan. We assessed deer movement and population connectivity across California State Route 67 and two smaller roads in eastern San Diego County using non-invasive genetic...Mitelberg, Anna; Vandergast, Amy
Drifting to oblivion? Rapid genetic differentiation in an endangered lizard following habitat fragmentation and drought
Aim The frequency and severity of habitat alterations and disturbance are predicted to increase in upcoming decades, and understanding how disturbance affects population integrity is paramount for adaptive management. Although rarely is population genetic sampling conducted at multiple time points, pre- and post-disturbance comparisons may...Vandergast, Amy; Wood, Dustin A.; Thompson, Andrew R.; Fisher, Mark; Barrows, Cameron W.; Grant, Tyler J.
Defining population structure and genetic signatures of decline in the giant garter snake (Thamnophis gigas): implications for conserving threatened species within highly altered landscapes
Anthropogenic habitat fragmentation can disrupt the ability of species to disperse across landscapes, which can alter the levels and distribution of genetic diversity within populations and negatively impact long-term viability. The giant gartersnake (Thamnophis gigas) is a state and federally threatened species that historically occurred in the...Wood, Dustin A.; Halstead, Brian J.; Casazza, Michael L.; Hansen, Eric C.; Wylie, Glenn D.; Vandergast, Amy
Habitat fragmentation in coastal southern California disrupts genetic connectivity in the cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)
Achieving long-term persistence of species in urbanized landscapes requires characterizing population genetic structure to understand and manage the effects of anthropogenic disturbance on connectivity. Urbanization over the past century in coastal southern California has caused both precipitous loss of coastal sage scrub habitat and declines in...Barr, Kelly R.; Kus, Barbara E.; Preston, Kristine; Howell, Scarlett; Perkins, Emily; Vandergast, Amy
Mapping habitat for multiple species in the Desert Southwest
Many utility scale renewable energy projects are currently proposed across the Mojave Ecoregion. Agencies that manage biological resources throughout this region need to understand the potential impacts of these renewable energy projects and their associated infrastructure (for example, transmission corridors, substations, access roads, etc.) on...Inman, Richard D.; Nussear, Kenneth E.; Esque, Todd C.; Vandergast, Amy G.; Hathaway, Stacie A.; Wood, Dustin A.; Barr, Kelly R.; Fisher, Robert N.